Skip to main content

Full text of "The rape of radio"

See other formats

791.9         : lr 

Keep  Your  Card  in  This  Pocket 

Books  will  be  issued  only  on  presentation  of  proper 
library  cards. 

Unless  labeled  otherwise,  books  may  be  retained 
for  two  weeks.  Borrowers  finding  books  marked,  de- 
faced or  mutilated  are  expected  to  report  same  at 
library  desk;  otherwise  the  last  borrower  will  be  held 
responsible  for  all  imperfections  discovered. 

The  card  holder  is  responsible  for  all  books  drawn 
on  this  card. 

Penalty  for  over-due  books  2c  a  day  plus  cost  of 

Lost  cards  and  change  of  residence  must  be  re- 
ported promptly. 

Public  Library 

Kansas  City,  Mo. 

Keep  Your  Card  in  This  Pocket 

RKOWIT7  ENVELOPE  CO.,  K.  0.,  MO. 


-r  .T; 

From  the  collection  of  the 



I.-.  a 


San  Francisco,  California 

OF    R^rtt) 





"So-o-o  YOU'RE  GOING  ON  THE  AIR" 


205  West  57th  Street  New  York 


BY     T.     J.     LITTLE     &     IVES     COMPANY.     NEW     YORK 

/  7A  /  _  ;    ,   _,    .      ^        ,    ,  J 

U/J  MY    NAME    IS    RADIO! 


My  name  is  RADIO!  My  influence  shall  abide! 
I,  Magic  Box,  am  something  years  ago 
The  wizards  dreamed  of  in  the  Arabian  Nights. 
Science  has  conceived  and  brought  to  birth, 
More  wondrous  far  than  legends'  figments  wrought 
By  the  ingenious  bards  of  long  ago. 

Use  cannot  make  me  stale  nor  custom  pale 

The  glamor  of  my  march  of  offerings. 

The  world  now  needs  me  every  day  and  night 

To  fill  its  every  want  and  appetite 

For  news,  for  music  and  sweet  conversation, 

For  comedy  that  wreathes  society  in  smiles. 

I  feel  like  a  spirit  medium  that  can  bring 
The  listener  what'er  he  wishes  from  the  void. 
Do  you  want  multitude  of  thoughts,  all  types? 
Full  measure  comes  with  the  revolving  dial; 
The  masters  wait  to  pour  out  symphonies 
That  rock  the  world  and  set  your  soul  on  fire. 

Do  you  want  messages  of  happenings 

About  this  troublous  world?  You  surely  may. 

Do  you  seek  sympathy,  companionship? 

Then  I  am  ready  to  respond  and  give 

You  all  the  fullness  of  my  complex  chords 

To  shake  you  out  of  selfish  isolation 

As  you  glide  on  from  station  unto  station. 

For  I  am  RADIO!  Forward  tomorrow, 

I  shall  strike  out  for  rich  new  worlds  to  conquer 

Making  the  present  television  faint 

A  shadow  of  the  glories  that  will  come 

In  fullness  of  the  real  in  shape  and  hue. 

Life  shall  be  more  bounteous  for  my  task! 
'Tis  mine  to  enlarge  your  reach  and  view  and  ear 
To  the  utmost  bounds,  making  man  great 
As  could  be  wished  when  a  young  Alexander 
Did  set  to  conquer  the  whole  habited  world; 
Only  my  means  persuasively  are  unfurled. 

•tfc  25  :«Z 

°  1065824 



1.  MlKEPHOBIA  3 



4.  Music  117 



7.  CAN  A  MIKE  TEACH?  175 


9.  THE  CHURCH  OF  THE  AIR  268 


11.  RADIO  ERA  OF  SPORTS  356 



14.  THE  SINS  OF  THE  SPONSOR  474 

15.  WHAT  Ho!  TELEVISION  508 




BROADCASTING  brought  into  the  mental  picture  a 
new  species  of  hysteria  called  "microphone  fright." 

The  microphone  creates  in  many  individuals  an  extraor- 
dinary fear  and  a  nervous  reaction  that  often  defies  analysis. 
Jane  Froman,  the  singer  once  expressed  it:  "The  most  nerve- 
wracking  moment  is  thirty  seconds  before  you  go  on  the  air." 

The  human  nervous  structure  is  a  complicated  switch- 
board. The  microphone  is  entirely  unrelated  to  the  average 
person's  mental  path.  When  this  new  instrument  is  plugged 
into  the  psychical  nervous  center,  the  individual  "sees"  new 
things  which  do  not  exist.  The  nerve  currents  tend  to  reverse. 
The  whole  system  is  overcome  by  a  blockage.  This  produces 
symptoms  of  speech  paralysis  for  no  physical  cause. 

The  very  presence  of  the  microphone  brings  about  changes 
in  the  vasomotor  system,  the  respiration  system,  the  viscera 
and  certain  peripheral  changes  such  as  perspiring  and  muscu- 
lar contractions.  In  addition  to  these  primary  reactions,  there 
are  other  reaction-patterns  which  depend  upon  the  cerebro- 
spinal  nervous  system.  These  involve  such  reactions  as  facial 
expression  and  vocalization,  and  also  flight.  Many  a  man 
would  like  to  flee  from  the  microphone  once  he's  before  it. 

Note  the  reaction  of  Gargantua.  The  circus  gorilla  was  to 
have  roared  and  beat  his  chest  (just  as  Johnny  Weismuller 
does)  before  a  wire  mike.  Bob  Carter  was  engaged  to  coax 
the  beast  to  perform  his  vocal  daily  dozen.  However,  like 
many  a  prima  donna  and  operatic  tenor,  the  sight  of  the 
microphone  frightened  our  jungle  friend,  and  for  the  dura- 
tion of  the  broadcast  he  remained  mute. 

How  shall  one  avoid  the  "fidgets"  when  one  comes  before 


4  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

the  microphone?  The  only  way  is  to  organize  intellectually 
the  emotions  to  accept  the  studio  and  the  microphone  as  a 
very  ordinary  situation.  Thus,  control  over  the  emotion  fear 
represents  a  certain  intellectual  control  and  balance. 

Only  by  experience  can  the  emotions  be  intelligently  or- 
ganized to  accept  the  microphone  as  a  very  ordinary  gadget 
like  the  telephone.  One  should  talk  into  the  microphone 
with  the  same  sense  of  composure  that  one  talks  into  the 

Will  Rogers  complained  that  the  first  parts  of  broadcasts 
were  never  as  good  as  the  last  parts,  so  five  minutes  before 
his  contribution  to  the  program,  he  started  speaking  into  a 
dead  microphone.  Edward  G.  Robinson  is  somewhat  nervous 
in  the  first  five  minutes  of  his  program.  Alton  Cook  reports 
that  it  takes  Robinson  those  five  minutes  to  get  into  the 
melodrama's  spirit,  after  which  he  swings  into  full  tilt. 

Many  programs  are  broadcast  successively  to  the  West 
Coast  as  well  as  to  the  East.  The  rebroadcast  in  every  in- 
stance is  more  improved.  Practice,  in  radio,  makes  for 
smoothness  and  ease  of  manner,  control  in  voice,  naturalness. 

John  Barrymore,  himself,  is  not  immune  to  microphone 
fright  even  after  rehearsing  diligently.  Ed  Sullivan  reports 
Barrymore's  first  appearance  before  the  little  metallic  filter 
through  which  he  was  to  make  one  of  his  passionate 
speeches.  "Gentlemen,"  said  John,  "I  am  not  a  cowardly 
man,  and  I  have  looked  into  the  eyes  of  cold  and  sullen 
audiences  in  theaters,  but  there  is  something  so  completely 
impersonal  and  so  sneeringly  eloquent  about  the  micro- 
phone that  I  feel  an  immediate  urge  for  a  drink."  The 
studio  attendants  were  not  astonished  at  the  request,  for  the 
drink  was  produced  immediately. 

Dr.  R.  E.  Lee  is  authority  for  the  statement  that  Lou 
Holtz  always  starts  his  broadcast  with  a  swig  of  sherry, 
to  ensure  a  clear  throat.  Zasu  Pitts,  in  order  to  get  the  mood 
for  her  broadcast,  rode  up  and  down  all  afternoon  in  the 


subway.  Such  a  method  is  as  good  as  any  other  for  focalizing 
your  own  sense  of  sensibility  and  self-control. 

The  broadcasting  studio  itself  represents  an  unusual  set- 
ting. The  unnatural  hush  upsets  even  the  most  poised 
persons.  The  program  director,  with  his  eyes  glued  to  the 
clock,  with  his  arm  ready  to  signal  that  you  are  about  to 
go  on  the  air,  looms  up  as  a  sort  of  Jack-the-Giant-Killer. 
There  is  a  grimness  about  the  studio  even  in  the  bright 
white  lights.  The  microphone  itself  seems  to  look  at  you 
with  metallic  grimaces.  The  whole  area  seems  hostile.  Even 
no  well-wishing  audience  that  stares  at  you  intensifies  your 
uneasiness.  And  the  lynx-eyed  man  in  the  control  room  seems 
to  peer  right  through  his  glass  window  right  into  your  very 
soul.  All  this  sounds  fantastic  to  the  experienced  broad- 
caster; but  these  are  often  very  genuine  reactions  to  the 
beginner.  Hollywood  stars  who  unflinchingly  face  the  bat- 
teries of  cameras  suddenly  get  the  jitters  when  they  enter 
the  broadcasting  studios  and  face  the  mike.  Experience  be- 
fore the  moving  picture  machine  does  not  always  imply 
an  easy  attitude  before  the  microphone. 

In  radio  circles,  the  term  "snerk"  is  used  in  describing 
mike  mannerisms.  The  personal  "snerks"  of  performers  play 
a  large  part  in  establishing  self-assurance.  Many  a  performer 
clings  to  superstition.  Ella  Fitzgerald,  a  swing  vocalist  with 
Chick  Webb,  always  wore  gloves  during  a  broadcast.  The 
Andre  sisters  could  not  go  on  unless  their  father  was  sitting 
in  the  front  row  directly  in  front  of  the  mike.  Every  radio 
artist  has  his  own  distinguishing  set  of  microphone  manner- 
isms. Before  and  during  a  broadcast  Kitty  Carlisle  bites  her 
lips.  Rudy  Vallee  keeps  fingering  the  bridge  of  his  nose,  as  if 
in  deep  thought.  Kate  Smith  keeps  tugging  at  her  skirt. 
Dick  Powell  rearranges  his  handkerchief  a  half  dozen  times. 
Jeannette  MacDonald  wears  glasses  while  broadcasting,  and 
either  has  one  foot  or  both  hands  on  the  chair  before  the 
microphone.  This  allows  a  sort  of  physical  ease  and  creates 


assurance  and  steadiness.  Joan  Crawford  broadcasts  seated 
at  a  table,  because  she  cannot  trust  her  quivering  knees. 
In  the  spring  of  1937  during  the  Lux  program  she  forsook 
her  customary  manner,  stood  right  up  center  stage  and 
braved  the  mike.  Publicity  announcements  state  that  her 
husband,  Franchot  Tone,  planted  a  kiss  on  the  courageous 
little  woman,  for  this  successful  evidence  of  self-control.  For 
six  years  Walter  Winchell  stood  up  when  before  a  mike. 
Now  he  remains  seated  but  always  wears  a  hat.  Lee  Wiley 
always  takes  off  his  shoes.  Lawrence  Tibbett  is  a  foot  tapper 
when  he  sings.  Because  a  battery  of  mikes  causes  him  to 
stammer,  only  two  microphones  were  allowed  in  front  of 
George  VI,  both  gold  plated,  when  he  toured  Canada. 

Lupe  Velez  made  her  first  broadcast  on  Ed  Sullivan's 
program  some  years  back.  As  she  finished  her  song,  Lupe 
stepped  back  and  quite  unaware  that  the  microphone  could 
pick  up  her  voice  as  she  retreated  from  it,  said:  "That  was 
lousy."  There  was  a  horrified  silence  from  the  CBS  engineers 
as  her  "lousy"  remark  shot  out  on  the  air  from  coast  to 
coast.  Sometimes  this  nervousness  is  due  to  the  fact  that  one 
is  pinned  down  to  a  script.  George  Raft  is  ill  at  ease  when 
pinned  down  to  a  script.  He  talks  much  more  freely  when 
he  is  permitted  to  ad  lib.  The  new  experience  of  coordi- 
nating reading  with  appearing  before  the  microphone  is 
disturbing.  Mary  Livingstone's  hands  shake  like  a  leaf.  She 
gets  very  nervous.  A  columnist  who  mentioned  this  to 
Eddie  Cantor  reports  Cantor  as  remarking,  "Mary  is  the 
only  one  in  radio  with  a  Sunday  broadcast  who  starts  getting 
nervous  the  previous  Wednesday."  This  is  no  attitude  of 
mind  with  which  to  approach  the  microphone. 

Conditions  in  the  studio  sometimes  jar  the  nerves  of  per- 
formers. Thoughtful  producers  make  every  effort  to  make 
things  agreeable.  The  successful  performance,  they  know, 
depends  upon  the  performer's  peace  of  mind.  It  is  said  that 
Jessica  Dragonette  used  to  complain  about  the  air  in  the 


studio  frequently.  The  program  director,  to  appease  her, 
would  pick  up  a  dead  studio  telephone  to  go  through  the 
elaborate  pretense  of  severely  reprimanding  the  ventilation 
engineer.  On  the  authority  of  Alton  Cook  who  tells  this 
story,  "the  air  was  fresh  then." 

Ed  Wynn  at  one  time  was  quite  exigent.  He  wanted  three 
microphones  so  he  could  turn  around  as  he  spoke.  The 
engineers  gave  him  two  extra  mikes,  one  on  either  side 
connected  to  nothing.  A  most  satisfying  hoax  was  played 
upon  Leopold  Stokowski.  The  conductor  insisted  that  he 
and  not  the  control  engineer  should  operate  the  control 
board.  They  gave  him  a  dummy  board  and  he  turned  the 
dials  with  the  delight  of  a  baby.  The  actual  control  opera- 
tion was  performed  by  an  engineer  in  another  part  of  the 
building.  In  the  early  days  a  glass  curtain  was  installed  across 
the  front  of  the  studio  stage.  Studio  acoustics  have  im- 
proved to  such  an  extent  that  an  orchestra  with  a  glass 
curtain  deflecting  its  sounds  would  sound  terrible.  Programs 
no  longer  try  to  cut  out  the  sounds  an  audience  makes. 

For  some  speakers  the  first  appearance  before  the  micro- 
phone is  their  final  appearance.  Nothing  can  be  done  to 
improve  their  temper.  Their  fears  are  deeply  rooted.  Damon 
Runyon  had  one  trial  before  the  microphone  and  called  it 
a  day.  On  the  program  with  him  were  Gatti-Casazza,  Gloria 
Swanson  and  the  late  Arthur  Brisbane  who  was  making  his 
first  appearance.  This  was  in  1926.  Sobol  reminisces  in  his 
New  York  Cavalcade:  "Brisbane  was  to  precede  Runyon 
and  the  latter  watched  and  listened  off  side.  There  was 
something  about  Brisbane's  deadly  earnestness  that  chilled 
Runyon,  and  two  minutes  before  he  was  to  speak  he  slipped 
out  a  side  door  and  made  the  elevator  in  nothing  flat.  No 
broadcasting  studio  has  been  honored  by  him  since." 

Jo  Ranson  tells  the  story  of  the  late  Ray  Long,  magazine 
editor,  who  possessed  all  the  poise  in  the  world.  When 
asked  to  appear  on  the  WABC's  "Going  to  Press  Hour," 

8  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

Long  wrote  a  beautiful  speech,  but  was  so  struck  by  mike 
fright  that  he  fell  completely  off  the  chair  and  pleaded  that 
he  could  not  continue.  ;  /* 

Candid  microphones  have  the  effect  of  minimizing  nerv- 
ousness. Candid  microphones  that  masquerade  as  silver  vases 
and  bowls  of  flowers  are  replacing  the  "forest"  of  ugly 
microphones  that  used  to  surround  the  speakers  at  a  banquet 
table.  The  audience  wants  to  see  and  hear,  but  it  does  not 
want  to  be  distracted  by  a  battery  of  "mikes."  One  of  these 
"candid  mikes"  is  a  decorative  vase-like  piece  with  silver 
handles  and  a  silver  rod  as  antenna.  For  it  is  not  only  a 
microphone  but  a  complete  short-wave  transmitter  requiring 
no  wire  connections.  Covered  with  flowers,  it  becomes  a 
floral  centerpiece  for  the  table. 

How  to  Stand  Before  the  Microphone 

Richard  Crooks  stands  well  back  before  the  microphone, 
because  his  voice  is  full  and  round.  Margaret  Speaks  stands 
much  closer.  That  makes  their  duets  look  very  odd  with  the 
soprano  standing  a  foot  or  two  in  front  of  the  tenor;  but 
these  relative  positions,  in  the  blending  process  create  a 
perfect  union  of  their  voices. 

Choirs  often  sound  loud  and  robust  on  the  air.  A  splendid 
effect  can  be  obtained  with  only  seven  voices.  Before  begin- 
ning accompaniments  for  the  choir  songs,  Alfred  Wallen- 
stein,  oboe  and  clarinet  players  bend  down  and  come  up 
with  the  saxophones,  to  give  the  proper  reception.  All  these 
tonal  effects  must  be  steady  and  much  depends  upon  the 
relative  positions  of  the  players  before  the  microphone. 

Edward  G.  Robinson  often  is  a  problem  to  the  engineers. 
He  makes  sudden  dramatic  changes  in  his  voice,  modulated 
from  a  soft  tone  to  a  sharp,  loud  voice.  The  engineer  must 
be  prepared  at  all  times  to  adjust  his  volume  levels,  else  his 


station  would  be  knocked  right  off  the  air.  Transmitter 
tubes  are  limited  in  the  volume  they  will  carry. 

There  is  a  general  impression  that  the  sound  engineer 
through  some  electrical  wizardry  can  make  a  voice  or  an 
orchestra  sound  better  than  it  really  is.  The  truth  is  that 
a  microphone  can  report  nothing  except  what  goes  into  it. 
All  the  engineer  can  do  is  to  reproduce  the  qualities  of  the 
sound  with  the  greatest  possible  fidelity. 

Position  before  the  microphone  is  everything.  NBC  once 
built  an  iron  fence  waist-high  around  the  microphone  to 
keep  the  actors  at  a  proper  distance.  The  director  must 
judge  the  positions  of  the  players  before  the  microphone  so 
that  the  sounds  will  be  natural  for  those  positions.  Distance 
from  the  microphone  to  the  origin  of  any  sound  changes  it, 
in  volume  and  in  quality.  The  whole  subject  concerns  the 
study  of  sound  perspective.  When  Helen  Hayes  appeared 
for  her  air  production  of  "Jane  Eyre,"  the  director  had  to 
figure  out  how  high  to  place  the  microphone  as  Miss  Hayes 
stands  five  feet  one  inch,  while  her  supporting  star,  Bob 
Montgomery,  was  just  one  foot  taller.  Douglas  Shearer,  re- 
cording director  of  the  M.G.M.  studios,  calls  attention  to 
the  attention-factor  in  listening.  The  brain  subconsciously 
selects  what  it  wants  to  hear  and  discards  the  rest.  The 
microphone  has  no  attention-factor  because  it  has  no  brain. 
The  engineer  supplies  the  brain  by  calculating  to  what 
extent  it  is  necessary  to  reduce  extraneous  sounds  to  give 
the  feeling  of  naturalness,  not  to  intrude  on  the  presenta- 

During  a  Ripley-WJZ  program  in  April,  1937,  "Ship- 
wreck" Kelly  was  one  of  the  guests.  Everything  was  done  to 
make  the  champion  flagpole  sitter  feel  at  home.  A  flagpole 
was  erected  in  the  studio  and  Kelly  was  to  broadcast  from 
the  top  of  it.  Let  Alton  Cook  tell  the  rest:  "Time  came  for 
his  first  line,  and  Kelly  sat  paralyzed  with  mike  fright, 
couldn't  utter  a  sound.  Ripley  and  Ozzie  Nelson  filled  in 

10  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

with  remarks  to  cover  the  difficulty,  hoping  their  man  would 
recover.  Finally,  Ed  Gardner,  a  director,  began  shouting 
Kelly's  lines  from  the  foot  of  the  flagpole.  That  worked  well 
enough  except  for  one  line.  Kelly  recovered  enough  to  read 
that  one  right  after  Gardner  had  finished  it." 

Programs  like  Jack  Benny's  employ  several  microphones. 
The  control  man  tacks  little  signs  all  over  the  switchboard, 
which  keep  track  of  who  is  using  each  individual  mike.  One 
sign  says  "Benny,"  the  second,  "Baker,"  etc. 

Sound  effects  require  special  attention.  When  the  sound 
of  a  door  slamming  is  to  get  put  in,  the  sound  man's  micro- 
phone is  turned  on  to  catch  the  slam  and  then  it  is  turned 
off  again.  Control  men  are  careful  not  to  leave  an  unused 
microphone  open,  because  someone  might  sigh  and  say, 
"My  God,  I  wish  this  pesky  business  was  all  over."  Or,  as 
is  reported  of  one  announcer  on  a  children's  program,  "And 
that  will  be  all  for  you,  little ." 

The  voice  is  sometimes  too  small  for  concert  or  opera, 
but  is  excellent  for  radio  work.  A  good  musician  is  more 
and  more  in  demand  in  this  field  where  facility  in  reading 
and  general  musicianship  are  required.  The  policy  of  the 
Juilliard  School  of  Music  is  to  discourage  all  from  entering 
the  field  as  professionals  unless  their  talents  justify  their 
belief  that  they  could  make  a  living  as  musicians. 

Microphone  "Technique" 

The  word  "technique"  involves  the  notion  of  something 
highly  technical.  The  dictionary  will  tell  you  that  it  is  the 
method  of  performance  or  manipulation  in  any  art  peculiar 
to  any  field.  Method  of  performance  before  the  microphone 
consists  of  a  few  elementary  rules  of  position,  and  the  use 
of  the  voice.  The  microphone  technique  of  a  performer  or 
speaker  may  be  perfect;  yet  his  voice  or  his  playing  may  be 
devoid  of  expression  and  fail  to  express  intelligently  his  own 


ideas  or  the  ideas  of  the  composer.  Many  erroneously  believe 
there  is  something  mysterious  about  microphone  technique 
that  requires  exhaustive  study.  The  truth  is  that  attention 
should  be  focused  on  performance  rather  than  upon  that 
grandiose  term,  microphone  technique,  which  gives  the 
speaker  or  artist  a  feeling  that  he  must  study  engineering 
in  order  to  appear  before  the  microphone. 

Mastery  at  the  microphone  by  the  President  is  often  illus- 
trated as  an  example  of  microphone  technique.  Franklin  D. 
Roosevelt  knows  how  to  direct  his  words  effectively  to  both 
the  visible  and  the  invisible  audience.  The  technique  in 
this  instance  merely  implies  that  he  has  been  trained  in 
obeying  those  physical  positions  before  the  mike  which 
effective  transmission  requires.  Surely  when  a  man  is  told 
not  to  cough  into  the  microphone  he  would  not  regard  it 
as  a  piece  of  microphone  technique. 

As  a  piece  of  engineering  skill,  studio  engineers  assembled 
a  pygmy-size  microphone  for  the  exclusive  use  of  Johnnie 
Roventini,  the  page  boy  of  the  Philip  Morris  program, 
WEAF.  There  was  no  more  need  for  the  box  which  lifted 
his  43-inch  frame  to  the  microphone  level.  The  individual 
mike  painted  a  bright  red  on  a  low  stand  is  for  his  exclu- 
sive use. 

Irving  Reis,  once  of  the  Columbia  Workshop,  when  asked 
if  it  had  been  his  experience  whether  actors  unfamiliar 
with  the  microphone  had  any  difficulty  in  adjusting  their 
art  to  the  new  medium,  replied:  "I  believe  that  any  intel- 
ligent actor  can  learn  all  about  the  technique  of  broad- 
casting in  an  hour,  especially  if  he  has  had  any  experience 
in  motion  pictures.  I  would  say  that  it  is  much  easier  to 
learn  the  technique  of  broadcasting,  than  for  a  stage  actor 
to  learn  the  mechanics  of  the  screen  or  a  film  player  to 
become  initiated  in  the  technique  of  the  theatre. 

"But  in  making  his  debut  in  the  radio  studios  the  actor 
is  merely  taught  the  mechanics  of  broadcasting;  he  is  told 

12  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

to  keep  within  certain  range  of  the  microphone.  A  line 
may  be  chalked  off  to  indicate  his  position,  and  if  he  be- 
comes confused  by  the  physical  movements,  he  is  told  to 
stand  still  and  to  leave  the  entire  matter  in  the  hands  of  a 
radio  engineer,  who  is  expert  in  regulating  the  tone  level. 
It  has  been  my  experience  that  when  an  actor  begins  to 
worry  about  the  microphone  'distances'  to  the  detriment  of 
the  part  he  is  playing,  it  is  better  to  let  him  forget  about 
the  mechanics  altogether  and  to  let  the  control  men  do 
the  regulating  in  their  glass-enclosed  booth." 

In  the  Clutch  of  the  Engineer 

The  control  engineer  exercises  sovereignty  over  everyone 
in  the  broadcasting  studio.  By  a  twist  of  his  dials  he  can 
shut  out  the  sound,  or  soften  it  down,  or  make  it  swell  in 
volume.  His  duty  is  to  see  that  there  isn't  too  great  a  volume. 
From  his  control  room,  the  voice  goes  to  the  master  control 
board,  where  the  master  control  engineer  corrects  any  errors 
in  sound  volume  overlooked  by  the  studio  engineer.  From 
the  master  control  the  voices  travel  over  wires  to  the  station 
transmitter  where  they  are  sent  out  over  the  ether. 

These  engineers  always  keep  guard  at  the  station  trans- 
mitter where  they  are  converted  into  radio  waves  traveling 
with  the  speed  of  light.  If  the  volume  is  too  heavy  at  the 
transmission  point  there  is  great  danger  of  destroying  the 
sensitive  transmission  tubes,  blowing  the  station  off  the  air. 

The  studio  control  room  man  cannot  afford  to  take 
chances.  His  judgment  of  the  dial  is  checked  and  double- 
checked.  An  easier  control,  they  insist,  is  to  have  the  per- 
formers control  volume  by  moving  toward  or  away  from  the 
mike.  It  is  this  insistence  upon  a  fixed  position  that  makes 
performers  self-conscious  and  often  prevents  them  from 
giving  their  best  performance. 

Andy  Sanella  expresses  his  control  of  fear  in  this  way: 


"Well,  I  sort  of  get  set  as  a  runner  at  a  track  meet  does  just 
before  the  gun  goes  off,  but  after  that  I  am  perfectly  at 

Sometimes  microphone  fright  is  induced  by  a  lurking  fear 
of  a  tongue-twister.  Tongue-twister  fear  or  the  fear  of  some 
blunder  in  song  or  speech  is  common  to  all  artists.  This  fear 
of  making  an  error  is  a  form  of  self-consciousness  and  indi- 
cates a  lack  of  concentration.  You  may  be  overcome  by  fear 
in  the  beginning,  but  after  a  while  broadcasting  becomes  a 
lot  of  fun,  and  you  never  think  of  mistakes. 

Rehearsals  tend  to  make  a  performance  perfect.  Some 
performers  do  worse  during  the  informal  atmosphere  of  the 
rehearsal.  It  requires  the  "real  thing"  to  bring  out  their 
best  abilities.  The  transition  in  mood  to  the  final  broadcast 
is  thus  expressed  by  David  Ross:  "While  I  prefer  the  in- 
formal surroundings  of  the  rehearsal  I  believe  the  tense 
atmosphere  of  the  actual  broadcast  induces  a  proper  nervous 
excitation  to  call  for  a  more  spirited  performance." 

Presence  of  mind  in  the  studio  is  always  important 
Things  happen  that  cause  the  heart  to  beat  faster.  There  is 
the  case  of  Amanda  Snow.  A  group  of  folding  chairs  was 
piled  a  few  feet  away  from  the  microphone  into  which  she 
was  singing.  In  the  middle  of  fhe  song  Amanda  swayed  back 
a  pace  or  two  and  caught  her  heel  in  one  of  UK  chairs.  She 
glanced  back  quickly.  The  singer  instantly  knew  that  if  she 
tried  to  pry  her  heel  loose,  the  pile  of  chairs  would  topple 
down  and  come  over  the  air  with  the  explosion  of  an 
earthquake.  Pity  her!  She  continued  singing  in  this  uncom- 
fortable position  for  twelve  minutes,  her  foot  paining  her 
more  by  the  minute.  The  program  over,  she  quickly  released 

It  is  important  that  the  band  director  know  his  micro- 
phone technique,  in  the  sense  of  placing  his  instruments. 
Every  instrument  must  be  placed  in  the  best  relative  posi- 
tion to  obtain  balanced  prominence.  For  this  reason  the 

14  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

director  should  know  how  his  music  is  coming  through  the 

Don  Bestor  spends  a  good  deal  of  time  listening  in.  This 
is  Don  Bestor's  placement  routine.  The  guitar  is  placed 
exactly  two  feet  away  from  the  microphone;  the  violins  four 
feet  away,  sometimes  three  feet.  Saxophones  are  drawn  up 
close  together,  with  the  alto  sax  slightly  to  the  foreground 
for  tonal  effect,  some  five  feet  from  the  microphone.  The 
brass  section  has  a  variable  spread  changing  their  stance 
from  nine  to  eleven  feet,  except  during  special  interludes 
when  the  mutes  are  brought  close  to  the  microphone.  The 
bass  instrument  is  furthest  from  the  mike  about  fifteen  feet; 
the  drums,  thirteen  feet.  The  piano  is  equidistant  with  the 

Chalk  marks  indicate  the  position  each  musician  is  to 
take.  Vocal  choruses  come  best  over  the  air  when  the  strings 
and  the  guitar  move  closer  to  the  mike,  and  the  brass  is 
double-muted.  After  much  experiment  with  four  micro- 
phones to  mix  the  tones,  Don  Bestor  found  results  most 
satisfactory  with  one  microphone  elevated  to  a  height  of 
eleven  feet  from  the  floor.  Music  is  always  soft  and  subdued 
to  conform  with  his  style  of  dance  music. 

Rudy  Vallee  calls  the  instrument  "Poor  Old  Mr.  Micro- 
phone— as  primitive  as  the  man  with  the  wooden  plow. 
The  former  is  at  the  mercy  of  the  control  engineer." 

"We  who  use  it,"  said  Rudy,  "no  matter  how  skilled 
through  years  of  trying  to  get  strength  of  receptivity  (mind 
you,  it  gives  no  indication  or  sign  as  to  whether  it  is  even 
alive  or  dead)  are  often  as  surprised  as  individuals  on  the 
listening  end  to  find  we  have  ruined  almost  a  whole  pro- 
gram. .  .  .  And  when  we  have  trios  and  quartettes — then  I 
give  up!  Here  the  difficulty  is  to  find  out  which  voice  or 
voices  are  too  close  or  too  far  away."  The  engineer's  reply 
is  quite  fair.  "You  should  know  your  distances  and  the 
strength  of  your  voices,"  he  says.  He's  right,  but  many  of 


us  don't,  and  oftentimes  we  feel  a  little  stronger  than  at 
others,  and  sometimes  the  monitor  himself  changes  the  gain 
or  strength  of  the  current  and  we  have  no  dial  to  indicate 
the  receptivity  of  the  microphone. 

To  show  just  how  helpless  the  networks  are,  let  me  tell 
you  about  a  broadcast  in  which  a  girl-trio  sang.  To  us,  in 
the  studio,  they  sounded  fine.  They  sang  for  three  minutes. 
These  three  minutes  cost  the  sponsor,  in  radio  time,  seven 
hundred  and  fifty  dollars  (this  on  the  basis  of  $15,000  for 
sixty  minutes) .  Then  after  the  broadcast  someone  hap- 
pened to  ask  the  engineer  (he  didn't  volunteer  it,  mind 
you!)  how  the  girls  came  through.  Rather  nonchalantly  he 
said  that  the  harmony  was  too  close  and  that  the  girl  who 
was  singing  the  melody  was  overshadowed.  This  engineer 
was  a  very  reticent  man  and,  since  most  of  them  are  paid 
to  watch  a  dial  and  not  to  make  suggestions,  we  would 
never  have  known  that  the  girls  were  poorly  balanced  unless 
we  had  asked.  The  poor  listener-in  probably  dialed  out  to 
find  something  more  pleasing  to  the  ear,  but  the  unlucky 
sponsor,  who  paid  the  bill,  was  more  sinned  against  than 
all  of  us.  I've  asked  the  engineers  for  something  to  tell  us 
just  what  was  going  on — even  to  lights  over  the  microphones 
to  signal:  GREEN — move  in  closer;  RED — move  further 
away;  BLUE — fine  as  it  is. 

The  control  engineer  is  no  miracle  worker  of  voices.  He 
cannot  be  expected  to  beautify  your  tone  by  increasing  the 
amount  of  current.  There  are  at  least  three  factors  involved. 
First,,  the  distance  of  voice  from  the  microphone.  Second, 
the  amount  of  current  running  through  the  microphone. 
Lastly,  the  voice  volume  of  the  speaker  or  singer. 

If  your  distance  from  the  microphone  is  correct,  but  your 
voice  too  strong  in  volume,  the  control  man  turns  the  gain 
down  to  prevent  blasting.  This  manipulation  makes  the 
voice  sound  unnatural,  with  a  far-away  quality. 

In  her  revealing  biography,  "Such  Sweet  Compulsion," 

l6  RAPE   OF   RADIO 

Geraldine  Farrar  speaks  soothingly  of  the  efforts  of  Marion 
Talley.  "This  charming,  but  tenuous  soprano's  voice,"  she 
says,  "was  pushed  to  the  amplified  limit  of  large  sound  and 
the  tonal  beauty  suffered  in  consequence,  sacrificed  to  noisy 

On  the  other  hand,  if  the  voice  is  just  correct  in  volume 
but  the  stance  is  too  far  away,  any  attempt  on  the  part  of 
the  control  man  to  bring  it  up  by  increasing  current  will 
magnify  all  the  imperfections  and  generally  produce  a  tinny 

The  control  man  informs  the  production  man  by  tele- 
phone or  signals  from  his  control  booth  how  things  are 
coming  through  the  wires.  He  may  signal  the  following 
blunders:  (i)  You  are  too  close;  your  voice  reaches  the 
listener  with  a  volume  that  may  be  blasting  him  out  of  his 
chair.  (2)  You  are  too  far  away  (the  poor  listener  strains  his 
ears  and  wonders  if  old  age  is  on  him  and  if  he  needs  an 
acousticon).  (3)  You  are  in  bad  balance  (the  harmony  so  far 
above  the  melody  or  the  rhythm  smothers  both). 

An  over-zealous  publicity  man  once  swore  that  Alex 
Weichew,  the  Fordham  center,  was  so  frightened  by  the 
microphone  before  he  started  to  speak  that  he  kicked  off  his 
shoes,  gloves  and  threw  imaginary  passes  to  shake  off  his 

Many  performers  throw  themselves  into  an  energetic 
pantomime.  Presence  of  mind  is  a  gift.  Gertrude  Lawrence 
forgot  the  lyrics  of  the  song  in  the  middle  of  a  chorus.  She 
was  magnificently  equal  to  the  occasion.  She  merely  stopped 
the  orchestra  and  asked  them  to  play  the  song  over  again. 
She  then  hummed  back  into  the  chorus  as  it  should  have 
been  in  the  first  place. 

Radio  has  its  unaccountable  mishaps.  Mrs.  Roosevelt  re- 
hearsed a  program  with  Hendrik  Willem  van  Loon  on  the 
WJZ  program  for  an  hour  before  they  went  on  the  air. 
Everything  went  smoothly  until  the  bottom  of  page  eight. 


Then  Mrs.  Roosevelt  turned  over  to  page  nine.  She  was  in 
consternation.  Page  nine  had  disappeared  entirely  from 
her  script.  She  mumbled  in  obvious  distress.  Someone  rushed 
up  another  page  nine,  and  the  broadcast  went  on  smoothly 
again.  Subdued  whispers.  She  went  right  on  reading  and 
started  through  the  top  of  page  ten. 

The  Engineering  Department 

The  engineering  department  is  responsible  for  the  cover- 
age of  the  station  and  the  entire  technical  transmission  of 
the  program.  The  same  is  to  provide  the  listeners  with  the 
highest  degree  of  fidelity  and  accuracy  of  reception. 

In  the  studio,  the  studio  engineer  is  in  charge.  He  checks 
every  microphone  equipment.  He  opens  the  microphones 
and  closes  them  as  they  are  needed.  He  may  blend  them  by 
opening  the  announcer's  microphone  simultaneously  with 
that  of  the  orchestra  in  order  that  the  announcer's  voice 
may  be  heard  above  the  musical  background.  His  particular 
duty  is  to  "ride  game,"  which  term  is  defined  as  the  main- 
tenance of  proper  value, — a  volume  sufficient  for  the  ear 
of  the  listener  and  yet  not  so  loud  as  to  destroy  fidelity  of 

The  master  control  engineer  has  a  duty  which  corre- 
sponds to  that  of  a  railroad  dispatcher  in  a  signal  office.  He 
sees  that  the  programs  are  sent  to  their  proper  destination. 
He  throws  the  switch  which  opens  the  wires  for  every  new 
show,  and  allows  for  station  breaks.  This  is  a  highly  tech- 
nical job,  which  requires  an  expert  knowledge  of  the  mem- 
bers of  their  associated  stations  and  their  facilities. 

The  transmitting  engineer  operates  the  highly  sensitive 
radio  unit,  the  transmitter,  which  actually  sends  the  pro- 
gram out  on  the  air.  He  is  the  last  one  to  check  on  all 
broadcast  matter  and  must  hold  a  license  from  the  federal 

l8  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

The  NAB,  in  its  booklet,  "Your  Hat's  in  the  Ring,"  issues 
the  following  injunctions  to  the  speaker  before  the  mike: 

1.  Do  not  cough  or  sneeze  into  the  microphone.   Kate 
Smith  once  reminded  an  audience  that  two  weeks  back  she 
had  sneezed  while  on  the  air  and  within  three  days  she 
received  5,000  post  cards  and  letters  saying,  "Gesundheit." 

2.  Avoid  clearing  the  throat. 

3.  Use   your   voice    to    reflect   your    sincerity,    intimacy, 
knowledge,  of  the  problem. 

4.  Be  friendly.  That  is  radio  at  its  best.  Be  sincere.  Noth- 
ing is  more  convincing. 

5.  You  are  speaking  to  people  at  home — not  in  the  con- 
vention hall.  Do  not  yell  your  lungs  apart.  A  conversational 
tone  will  win  you  listeners, — a  rasping  expression  will  turn 
them  away. 

6.  When  you  are  before  the  microphone  relax. 

7.  If  you   are  one  who   needs   a   few  interested   people 
around  to  register  reactions,  ask  friends  to  come  in. 

8.  Keep  your  lips  moist.  This  avoids  speaker's  "dry  dust." 

9.  Have  your  voice  checked  (well  in  advance  of  your  radio 
period)  by  the  engineer. 

10.  Speak  into  the  microphone.  Take  a  distance  (at  the 
start)  of  not  less  than  two  feet.  Be  guided  by  what  the  con- 
trol room  engineer  tells  you.  He  is  there  to  help  you. 

11.  If  your  voice  is  muffled  and  indistinct  no  one  will 
hear  you.  Cultivate  distinctness  of  articulation,  without  ap- 
pearing too  pedantic  by  an  over  crispness. 

12.  When  you  hold  your  written  speech  up,  don't  let  it 
come  between  your  lips  and  the  microphone. 

13.  Check  your  script-reading  habits  with  the  engineer 

14.  As  you  finish  speaking  each  page,  drop  it  to  the  floor 
so  it  will  cause  no  sound.  The  WOR  research  has  perfected 
a  soft  paper  that  will  not  rattle. 


Microphone  Positions 

A  few  simple  directions  constitute  the  actor's  code  of  con- 
duct before  the  microphone:  i.  For  average  effects  the  radio 
speaker  stands  about  a  foot  from  the  microphone.  2.  For 
loud  speech  beyond  that  of  the  conversational  level — step 
back  from  the  microphone.  3.  Entrances  are  made  about 
eight  feet  away.  The  level  of  volume  is  raised  from  very 
low  to  natural  conversational  tone  as  you  approach  the 
microphone.  When  approaching  the  microphone  for  this 
"entrance"  effect,  keep  on  talking  while  you're  moving  be- 
cause if  you  pause  and  your  voice  is  heard  from  a  greater 
distance,  it  will  sound  like  that  of  another  person.  4.  Vari- 
ous modes  are  accomplished  by  changing  the  position  or 
varying  the  delivery.  In  moments  of  excitation,  stand  at 
some  distance  from  the  mike,  raise  the  pitch  of  the  voice 
and  speak  more  rapidly.  For  sympathetic  effects,  come  closer 
to  the  microphone  and  lower  the  voice  to  a  murmur.  For 
the  hollow  quality  of  the  ghostly  laugh,  "Ha-ha-ha,"  start 
some  feet  from  the  microphone  and  come  up  to  it.  Loyalty 
and  self  devotion — speak  quietly  with  kindly  intonations 
close  to  the  microphone. 


ANYBODY  can  announce!" 
This  is  the  happy  belief  that  has  buoyed  the  hopes 
of  an  army  of  applicants  from  the  earliest  days  of  the  micro- 
phone. Youth  fired  with  imagination  lost  no  time  in  explor- 
ing what  seemed  an  easy  way  to  fame.  An  alarming  supply  of 
announcers  shifted  from  station  to  station.  Nearly  twenty 
years  passed  before  the  cult  of  the  announcer  was  raised 
to  the  dignity  of  an  organized  profession.  Today  the  net- 
works employ  about  three  thousand  announcers. 

October,  1938,  marked  an  important  date  for  the  an- 
nouncer. It  was  then  that  the  American  Federation  of  Radio 
Artists  signed  an  agreement  with  NBC  which  removed  the 
announcer  from  the  class  of  over-exploited  radio  employee. 
The  contract  provided  that  the  senior  announcer  should 
receive  $250  per  month,  while  juniors  should  start  at  $110 
per  month  and  be  raised  within  two  years  to  $175.  Instead  of 
exacting  long  hours  covering  a  seven-day  week,  the  contract 
called  for  a  44-hour  week  with  two  weeks'  vacation  after  a 
year's  services. 

An  applicant  for  the  post  of  announcer  is  often  rudely 
shocked  to  discover  his  way  barred  by  new  standards  and 
requirements.  One  no  longer  enters  announcing  as  upon  a 
lark.  In  truth  Patrick  Kelly,  supervisor  of  announcers  at 
NBC,  warned  that  "announcing  is  one  of  the  most  exacting 
jobs  in  radio." 

Networks  today  will  not  consider  an  announcer  unless  he 
is  a  college  graduate  with  at  least  two  years'  experience  at 
a  small  station.  He  must  be  adept  in  ad  libbing  as  shown  by 
a  test  ranging  from  a  five  to  a  fifteen  minute  talk  on  some 

.     20 


topical  event.  A  knowledge  of  continuity  writing  and  pro- 
duction will  be  expected  of  him,  and  he  must  speak  at  least 
one  foreign  language.  It  is  not  everyone  who,  like  Andre 
Baruch,  can  speak  fluent  French,  Spanish  and  Italian,  and 
in  addition,  creditably  strike  the  native  ear  in  Dutch,  Flem- 
ish, and  Portuguese. 

And  if  standards  of  announcing  have  become  high,  oppor- 
tunities have  become  narrower.  The  National  Broadcasting 
Company  has  perhaps  six  openings  for  announcers  a  year. 
For  these  six  openings  hundreds  of  trained  announcers  audi- 
tion and  the  competition  is  naturally  keen. 

The  British  have  their  own  troubles  in  selecting  an- 
nouncers, especially  these  war  days.  John  Snagge,  an  official 
in  charge  of  testing  applicants,  complained  as  late  as  May, 
1940,  "Out  of  more  than  2,000  heard  only  one  man  has  thus 
far  been  chosen,  and  no  woman  has  made  the  grade.  Not 
one  person  in  a  thousand  can  read  a  news  bulletin  as  it 
ought  to  be  read — it  is  too  fast,  too  slow,  too  flat,  or  too 

The  smaller  stations  have  become  the  training  schools  for 
the  announcer.  At  the  smaller  station,  the  announcer  has  an 
opportunity  to  be  on  his  own  as  in  the  early  days.  He  may 
be  called  upon  not  only  to  announce,  but  to  create  entire 
programs,  assume  charge  of  production,  do  the  work  of  the 
engineer,  display  his  gifts  as  a  singer,  double  in  brass,  and 
carry  on  under  difficult  conditions. 

In  the  search  for  experience  the  applicant  is  faced  with 
the  stark  truth  that  only  by  actual  performance  under  the 
exigencies  of  the  studio  can  the  announcer  be  trained.  Many 
colleges  give  courses  in  voice  production  and  microphone 
technique,  but  theory  alone  will  not  avail.  There  is  no  solu- 
tion for  the  personal  problem  of  getting  that  announcer's 
job  on  the  small  stations,  which  constitutes  the  experience 
that  the  networks  demand.  The  problem  remains  much  like 

22  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

that  of  the  actor  or  the  opera  singer  trying  to  get  his  first 

The  English  with  some  sense  of  humor  have  finally  con- 
cluded that  when  the  announcer  has  passed  through  the  first 
experience  he  will  emerge.  He  must  be: 

1.  Six  feet  in  height. 

2.  Acceptable  to  Hollywood  standards  of  good  looks. 

3.  Possess  a  24-carat  voice. 

4.  Speak  eighteen  languages. 

5.  Be  able  to  act  as  stand-in  at  a  moment's  notice  in  the 

6.  Radiate  charm,  dignity,  elan,  verve,  savoir  faire,  Je  ne 
sais  pas  quoi. 

7.  Have  a  brilliant  individual  touch  in  spontaneous  talk 
while  putting  on  transcribed  records. 

From  Anonymity  to  Fame 

The  old  announcer  was  as  free  as  the  air.  He  went  off  on 
his  verbal  rounds  uncensored,  impersonalized,  bound  by  no 
restrictions  and  regulated  only  by  his  own  sense  of  the  fitness 
of  things  by  the  initiative  of  his  own  choice.  Milton  J.  Cross, 
in  the  earlier  days,  announced  himself  as  AJN.  It  was  he 
who  introduced  Lindbergh  on  the  air,  and  served  as  Mrs. 
Roosevelt's  first  host. 

The  modern  announcer  is  fortified  with  scripts,  stop 
watches,  assistants,  and  engineers.  In  the  early  days  he  was 
a  factotum  who  had  to  struggle  with  every  situation  and 
emergency.  He  was  station  manager,  market  expert,  political 
commentator,  engineer,  narrator  of  bedtime  stories,  lecturer 
on  any  and  all  subjects,  program  director,  continuity  editor, 
and  host. 

Graham  McNamee  introduced  himself  as  a  concert  singer 
when  he  applied  for  a  job  at  the  studios  of  the  infant  WEAF 


in  1922.  He  would  broadcast  a  whole  football  game,  rest 
for  an  hour  or  two  and  do  a  concert  in  the  evening. 

Bill  Hay,  the  perennial  Amos  'n'  Andy  announcer,  once 
taught  piano  and  ran  a  radio  store.  For  two  years  he  read 
and  announced  his  own  program,  with  potato  sacks  for 
sound-proofing  and  open  windows  to  admit  the  air  on  the 
now  extinct  KFKX  of  Hastings,  Nebraska. 

Even  as  late  as  1930,  the  age  of  specialization  for  the  an- 
nouncer had  not  yet  begun.  Ford  Bond  recalls  the  routine 
of  that  period:  "When  I  first  started  announcing  for  NBC," 
he  narrates,  "I  came  to  work  in  the  morning  with  no  idea 
where  I  might  be  by  night.  We  might  be  ordered  to  Florida 
or  Canada  without  five  minutes'  notice,  and  we  never  knew 
whether  we  were  going  to  announce  a  baseball  game,  a  con- 
cert, or  an  endurance  flight.  But  that's  all  changed  now. 
We  know  every  morning  exactly  what's  lined  up  for  us  all 
day.  The  special  events  are  all  turned  over  to  special  an- 
nouncers who  are  authorities  in  their  respective  fields." 

The  world's  pioneer  radio  announcer  was  H.  W.  Arlin, 
an  electrical  engineer  employed  by  the  Westinghouse  Elec- 
tric &  Mfg.  Co.  of  Pittsburgh.  In  1917  he  made  his  debut 
on  the  air  on  the  company's  pioneer  station  KDKA.  Arlin 
had  no  precedents  to  guide  him.  Fortunately  he  was  gifted 
with  precise  diction,  and  a  resonant  voice,  sharp  enough 
to  clear  through  the  imperfect  conditions  of  transmission 
and  receiving  sets.  The  KDKA  transmitting  room  was 
located  on  the  roof  of  a  nine  story  building.  The  studio  in 
effect  was  a  tent.  In  the  spring  the  sides  of  the  tent  were 
rolled  up  so  that  the  broadcast  was  actually  an  open-air 
affair.  A  bright  light  above  the  microphone  illuminated  the 
area.  It  was  a  test  for  any  announcer  to  know  what  to  say 
when  a  moth  hovering  around  the  flame  flew  into  a  tenor's 
widely  opened  mouth  at  the  peak  of  a  high  note. 

The  announcer  soon  emerged  from  anonymity.  Listeners 
learned  to  identify  the  voice  characteristics  peculiar  to  the 

24  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

speakers.  An  audience  for  the  intimate  life  of  public  per- 
formers had  to  be  satisfied.  A  curious  public  wanted  to 
know  more  about  a  man  with  a  voice  as  friendly  and  as 
earnest  as  Milton  J.  Cross.  When  the  true  and  full  name 
of  the  announcer  was  released,  he  rose  on  the  crest  of  pub- 
licity and  became  definitely  associated  with  the  station. 

The  British  clung  more  doggedly  to  the  policy  of  keeping 
announcers  entirely  out  of  the  limelight.  It  was  only  in  1936 
that  the  BBC  relented  and  divulged  the  names  of  their 
leading  announcers  with  a  few  details  about  their  per- 

And  there  are  those  with  us  today  who  prefer  that  certain 
types  of  announcers  remain  forever  in  a  state  of  oblivious 

The  Free  Lance  Commercial  Announcer 

Both  station  and  sponsor  were  slow  in  realizing  that  the 
experience,  knowledge  and  foresight  of  the  announcer  play 
a  large  part  in  the  success  of  the  radio  production. 

The  free-lancer  usually  has  established  his  name  and 
vogue  on  the  networks  and  in  some  way  called  attention 
to  his  voice  personality.  In  employing  such  an  announcer 
the  sponsor  avoids  taking  chances  with  an  unfamiliar  vocal 

Announcers  for  the  big  commercial  programs  are  not 
chosen  because  of  their  meticulous  enunciation.  The  quali- 
ties sought  are  voice  timbre,  and  an  ingratiating  style  that 
is  called  "ear-arresting."  Such  announcers  as  Andre  Baruch, 
Ken  Carpenter,  Don  Wilson,  Jimmy  Wallington,  and  Ben 
Grauer,  make  themselves  doubly  valuable  to  their  sponsors 
as  actors  in  various  roles. 

By  virtue  of  emoluments  alone,  the  free-lance  announcer 
is  in  a  class  of  his  own.  Removed  from  the  routine  of  studio 
announcing,  he  is  free  to  accept  screen  and  transcription 
work,  as  well  as  offers  from  any  sponsor. 


Sometimes  accident  plays  a  part  in  the  discovery  of  an 
announcer.  A  man  or  a  woman  might  be  gifted  with  a  voice 
personality  that  is  exactly  suited  to  a  specific  program,  and 
that  quality  transmitted  over  the  air  makes  him  a  "natural." 
Take  the  believe-it-or-not  story  told  about  Johnny  whose 
monotoned  "Call  for  Philip  Morris"  is  familiar  to  all  lis- 
teners. In  1933,  Johnny  Roventini  was  a  page  boy  in  the 
New  Yorker  Hotel.  The  traditional  story  is  that  a  man  came 
into  the  lobby,  sat  down  in  a  chair  and  asked  Johnny  to 
page  a  friend.  For  five  minutes  the  page  boy  paced  the 
corridors  and  chanted  his  call.  When  he  returned  after  fail- 
ing in  his  mission,  he  was  told  by  the  man  in  the  easy  chair, 
that  he  had  passed  an  audition  for  radio.  That  man  in  the 
chair  was  an  agency  man  for  Philip  Morris. 

Let  there  be  any  new  program  advanced  by  a  sponsor  and 
the  agency  will  be  on  the  lookout  for  the  voice  whose  timbre 
conveys  a  geniality  and  warmth, — a  voice  quite  natural  and 
yet  with  the  touch  of  persuasiveness.  Jimmy  Wallington 
reflects  the  sponsor's  viewpoint  in  this  way:  "Before  an 
announcer  can  get  a  commercial  program,  he  must  build 
up  on  his  sustaining  broadcast  a  feeling  of  what  I  call  'good 
will'  between  himself  and  the  public.  His  next  duty  is  to 
sell  the  good  will  of  the  station  he  works  for,  and  then, 
through  the  faith  the  public  has  in  him  he  can  sell  his 
sponsor's  product." 

The  free-lance  rise  of  Harry  von  Zell  is  ascribed  to  Paul 
Whiteman.  Von  Zell  began  his  career  as  a  full-time  an- 
nouncer for  a  Hollywood  station  in  1930.  Paul  Whiteman  at 
that  time  was  making  a  picture  and  broadcasting  at  the  same 
time  with  Ted  Husing  as  his  announcer.  When  Ted  was 
called  East  to  broadcast  sports,  Whiteman  had  to  fill  the 
vacancy.  Three  hundred  announcers  applied  for  the  job 
and  the  task  of  auditioning  seemed  formidable.  Harry  von 
Zell,  with  heartiness  and  zest  in  his  voice,  led  all  the  rest. 
Whiteman  brought  von  Zell  to  New  York  where  he  gained 

26  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

popular  recognition  as  a  CBS  staff  announcer.  So  the 
agencies  lured  him  from  general  announcing  to  the  job  of 
free-lance  announcer  for  the  important  programs  of  Fred 
Allen,  Phil  Baker,  Walter  O'Keefe,  Helen  Hayes,  and  the 
March  of  Time. 

A  background  as  varied  as  that  of  Kelvin  Keech  would 
stand  the  announcer  in  good  stead.  He  graduated  as  an 
engineer,  became  entertainer  on  the  Continental  stage, 
directed  his  own  jazz  band,  and  broadcast  over  the  BBC. 
From  general  announcing  he  was  called  to  preside  over 
such  programs  as  Warden  Lawes,  Pop-eye,  Fireside  Recital 
and  Billy  and  Betty. 

Beginning  at  WJZ  in  1925,  John  S.  Young  joined  NBC 
as  staff  announcer  in  1928;  was  selected  "all- American" 
announcer  in  1929;  gave  the  first  course  in  radio  technique 
at  New  York  University  in  1932;  was  the  first  announcer  to 
be  heard  in  experimental  trans-Atlantic  broadcasts  and  the 
first  exchange  announcer  between  England  and  the  United 
States.  He  stepped  out  of  the  announcing  ranks  to  supervise 
all  radio  activities  of  the  New  York  World's  Fair.  As  an 
announcer,  John's  voice  is  internationally  known.  In  the 
early  days  of  broadcasting,  he  was  heard  on  programs  sent 
out  by  powerful  short-wave  stations  to  Europe.  When  Pope 
Pius  appeared  before  the  mike  for  the  first  time,  Young  was 
the  announcer  on  the  American  side.  As  for  talents,  he  plays 
the  violin,  piano,  guitar,  banjo,  ukulele  and  vibraharp; 
speaks  French,  German,  Italian  and  Spanish. 

Voice  Culture 

Radio  is  slowly  building  up  the  tradition  that  the  an- 
nouncer shall  unmistakably  impress  the  listener  as  a  man  of 
true  culture.  The  listener  becomes  conscious  of  the  presence 
or  the  absence  of  the  sign  of  refinement  and  good  breeding. 
The  sign  is  the  voice. 


Carlton  Andrews  in  a  blasting  letter  to  the  radio  editor 
of  the  New  York  Times  flays  those  stations  that  employ 
announcers  who  lack  the  fundamental  qualifications:  "If  we 
grant  these  invaluable  licenses  for  no  fee  to  commercial 
broadcasts,  we  are  at  least  entitled  to  full  assurance  that 
their  professional  spokesmen  in  our  homes  shall  be  gentle- 
men of  actual  education  and  some  degree  of  true  modesty, 
whose  manners  are  unfailingly  courteous  and  considerate, 
and  whose  English  is  trustworthy  and  genuine  and  a  fit 
model  for  the  young." 

Announcers  must  at  least  speak  one  language  and  that 
is  Standard  English,  which  cannot  by  its  nature  display  the 
warmth  of  a  homey  local  dialect.  In  the  selection  of  their 
announcers,  the  networks  have  settled  the  mooted  questions 
of  standard  speech  more  decisively  than  the  phoneticians 
who  have  never  ceased  to  wrangle  about  it.  It  is  safe  to  say 
that  standard  speech  before  the  radio  is  speech  which  is 
intelligible  to  the  larger  units  of  population.  In  this  sense 
it  is  not  cast  in  a  rigid  linguistic  mold.  It  is  the  compromise 
of  the  common  tongue  amongst  hundreds  of  localisms  and 

American  speech  is  not  a  local  speech.  It  is  the  composite 
tongue  of  a  country  whose  borders  stretch  three  thousand 
miles  east  and  west.  Many  regions  have  their  own  peculiari- 
ties of  speech.  There  is  the  sharp  twang  of  New  England, 
the  gusty  style  of  the  West,  the  languorous  open  vowel 
drawl  of  the  South.  An  announcer  whose  speech  smacks  of 
the  peculiarities  of  any  region  may  be  perfectly  understood 
in  that  region.  It  is  standard  for  that  region.  If  his  voice  is 
flung  over  the  networks,  the  dialect  may  be  unintelligible 
in  many  sections  of  the  country,  however  picturesque. 

The  British  have  their  own  problems  with  variations  of 
English.  Prof.  Lloyd  James,  linguistic  adviser  to  the  BBC, 
once  declared  that  if  he  were  dictator  of  the  English  lan- 
guage, for  announcer  he  would  choose  "the  educated  Scot- 

28  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

tish  person,  perhaps  President  Roosevelt,  as  an  international 
standard  for  the  English-speaking  world.  When  I  hear  the 
voice  of  any  announcer,  I  notice  (partly  consciously  and 
partly  subconsciously)  four  things  about  it.  One  is  the  actual 
quality  of  the  voice;  the  second  is  the  rise  and  fall  of  the 
voice;  third,  the  pronunciation  of  the  words;  fourth,  manner 
and  style." 

Radio  announcers  may  be  divided  into  three  classes: 
(i)  cultured;  (2)  pseudo-cultured;  (3)  under-cultured  or 
vulgar.  The  pseudo-cultured  announcer  gives  the  listener 
the  impression  of  a  superior  soul  who  never  quite  releases 
himself  from  the  role  of  a  star  performer.  Sentences  roll  out 
with  rich  rhythms  and  requirements  of  sense  give  way  to 
cacophonies.  Carlton  Andrews  ascribes  this  manner  to  the 
ham  tradition  which  radio  has  fostered.  To  the  ear  of  the 
radio  fan  such  pretense  and  affectation  are  often  accepted  as 
comedy  effects.  The  announcer  who  talks  as  if  he  had  a 
monocle  in  his  throat  is  growing  rare. 

The  cultured  announcer  is  more  impersonal  in  delivering 
his  message.  He  does  not  call  attention  to  himself  because 
of  his  peculiarities  in  speech  or  a  manner  unsuited  to  the 
occasion.  He  stands  out  as  a  man  of  culture  because  his 
culture  does  not  obtrude.  His  diction  is  neither  over-precise 
nor  slurred.  He  knows  the  living  language.  He  affects 
neither  elocutionary  airs  nor  vulgar  deflections. 

Radio  directors  have  stressed  the  importance  of  flexibility 
in  the  voice  of  the  announcer.  The  most  agreeable  voice 
is  adapted  to  the  spirit  of  the  occasion.  A  formal  and  dig- 
nified program  will  call  for  a  just  decorum  in  voice,  but 
the  announcer  will  have  to  change  his  vocal  manner  at  a 
hilarious  Al  Jolson  get-together  party.  If  he  puts  crepe  over 
his  voice,  he  would  soon  hear  from  the  fans. 

The  aim  of  the  BBC  has  been  to  create  a  sort  of  standard 
accent  which  would  be  dignified,  understood  by  every  one, 
and  strike  a  happy  medium  between  all  the  dialects  spoken 


in  the  country.  An  advisory  committee  has  been  set  up  to 
decide  on  the  pronunciation  of  difficult  words.  All  the  mem- 
bers of  the  committee  speak  good  English,  yet  they  can 
muster  at  least  six  dialects  amongst  them. 

It  is  no  easy  task  to  decide  which  pronunciation  is  the 
correct  one.  One  of  the  words  about  which  there  was  doubt 
was  "capuchin."  Listeners  suggested  there  were  fourteen 
different  ways  of  pronouncing  the  word. 

Occasionally  even  the  best  announcers  exaggerate  the 
vocal  touch.  It  is  quite  easy  to  influence  people  to  tune  you 
out  by  the  use  of  the  wrong  vocal  qualities.  Howard  Clancy 
who  introduced  Toscanini  at  the  first  of  the  NBC  Philhar- 
monic Broadcasts  almost  accomplished  this  result.  He  spoke 
in  a  hushed  and  awed  voice,  as  though  the  program  were 
too  stupendous  for  human  ears.  All  this  requires  an  intuitive 
understanding  of  the  situation  and  an  ability  to  use  the 
voice  to  express  the  feeling  and  the  meaning  of  the  written 

Airing  Your  Personality 

Far  more  important  than  the  mastery  of  studio  rules,  and 
the  possession  of  a  good  voice,  are  the  subtleties  of  per- 
sonality which  the  microphone  reveals.  The  personality  of 
the  announcer  is  measured  by  his  natural  and  acquired  gifts. 
Education  and  experience  are  important  but  there  are 
certain  characteristics  which  seem  to  be  born  with  the 

A  director  may  be  favorably  impressed  with  a  man's  voice 
when  he  talks  to  him  face  to  face,  but  when  the  candidate 
tries  to  get  that  voice  through  the  loud  speaker,  it  somehow 
loses  its  quality.  It  comes  over  dead  and  flat.  It  lacks  the 
sparkle  that  makes  microphone  "voice  personality."  Surveys 
indicate  that  the  lower  tenor  and  baritone  voices  of  the 
male  register  most  agreeably.  Occasionally  a  bass  manages 
to  capture  popular  fancy. 

30  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

The  announcer's  most  important  natural  gift  is  his  "voice 
personality."  No  exact  definition  of  this  term  can  be  given. 
It  might  be  described  subjectively  as  a  certain  kindly  and 
friendly  tone  which  impels  the  listener  to  meet  the  living 
possessor  of  the  voice. 

The  United  Press  on  March  28,  1939,  reported  one  item 
that  classically  illustrates  the  power  of  the  radio  voice.  A 
certain  Mrs.  Agnes  Mae  Watson  of  Dorchester,  Mass.,  died 
and  left  $500  to  Bill  O'Connell,  an  announcer  for  the  Yan- 
kee and  Colonial  networks.  The  attorney  who  contested  the 
will  on  behalf  of  relatives  claimed  that  Mrs.  Watson  had 
hallucinations  and  that  "she  had  acquired  an  overwhelming 
passion,  affection  and  love  for  Bill  O'Connell."  Counsel  for 
the  beneficiary  countered  that  she  was  not  mentally  unsound 
but  "merely  a  radio  fan." 

The  affection  with  which  an  announcer  is  held  by  his 
public  may  not  go  so  far  as  to  induce  his  listeners  to  leave 
him  money  bequests,  but  the  regard  is  none  the  less  genuine. 

Sponsored  programs  brought  into  being  the  "free-lance 
announcer."  In  a  special  sense,  the  free-lance  announcer  is 
a  commercial  attach^,  a  super-salesman  acting  for  the 
sponsor.  Today  he  is  in  the  preferred  class.  The  life  and 
death  of  many  a  program  depend  on  him.  The  station  always 
provided  the  announcer  for  each  commercial  program  at  no 
extra  cost,  but  the  Agency  accustomed  to  assembling  its  own 
talent,  began  to  engage  its  own  announcers  and  treated  them 
as  though  they  were  performers  or  artists.  The  "guest"  an- 
nouncer soon  became  a  fixture. 

Atmospheric  Announcing 

The  most  difficult  task  of  the  master  of  ceremonies  is  to 
establish  the  proper  atmosphere  for  special  programs,  or 
extravaganza  productions  like  the  "Show  Boat."  Frank 
Mclntyre  who  assumed  the  role  of  Captain  Henry  of  the 


Show  Boat  had  to  adapt  himself  to  the  art  of  the  em  cee. 
He  gives  this  close-up  of  his  method  in  Radio  Guide: 

"I  have  to  be  master  of  ceremonies,  announcer  and  actor. 
The  master  of  ceremonies  on  a  program  like  Show  Boat 
must  lend  color  to  the  whole  hour,  blend  it  together,  with 
only  his  voice  to  help  him.  Here  is  the  method  I  use.  The 
band  plays  a  hot  number  and  finishes.  I  chuckle,  and  say: 
'So  that  was  the  King  of  Swing,  eh  Gus?  I  reckon  that  makes 
you  the  power  behind  the  throne.'  The  next  number  is  a 
romantic  solo  to  be  sung  by  Lanny  Ross.  My  job  is  to  make 
a  transition  from  the  mood  of  the  band  number  to  the  mood 
of  the  solo.  The  orchestra  begins  the  faint  background  music 
to  introduce  Lanny.  I  temper  my  voice  to  the  mood  and  say, 
in  a  gentle  dreamy  tone: 

"  'Just  sit  back  in  your  seats  for  a  minute  folks.  Close 
your  eyes  and  think  of  the  things  we  all  love  to  dream 
about — springtime — romance — stars — youth  and  moonlight. 
These  are  the  things  our  dreams  are  made  of — and  they 
are  the  things  our  handsome  leading  man  is  singing  about, 
right  nowl  Lanny  Ross,  folks,  singing  "A  Rendezvous  With  a 
Dream," — Introducing  Tim  and  Irene,  I  use  a  tone  suited  to 
the  worthy  and  dignified  number  which  the  "Liebestraum" 
is.  This  is  how  you  blend  the  parts  of  the  program  together 
and  prepare  the  audience  for  what  is  coming." 

Beware  the  Diction  Award! 

The  American  Academy  of  Arts  and  Sciences  endeavored 
to  aid  and  abet  a  better  diction  in  radio  announcers.  In  1929 
the  Academy  established  an  annual  medal  award.  By  the 
time  the  fourth  annual  award  came  around  the  committee 
was  ready  to  show  its  influence:  "We  have  found  the  deci- 
sion more  difficult  for  the  reason  that  the  general  level  for 
announcers  has  risen." 

Hamlin  Garland,   Chairman  of  the  Committee  for  the 

32  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

Radio  Diction  Award,  made  known  the  criteria:  "It  is  a 
mistake  to  assume  that  the  medal  for  good  diction  over  radio 
is  for  the  best  announcer.  It  is  given  for  good  diction  on 
the  radio.  After  all,  we  can  hear  only  a  few  of  the  thousands 
of  announcers  scattered  all  over  the  States.  What  this  medal 
means  is  that  the  winner  has  the  hightest  markings  in  articu- 
lation, pronunciation,  freedom  from  local  accent,  freedom 
from  strident  or  nasal  tone  and  for  general  effect  as  to  taste 
and  scholarship.  There  may  be  announcers  somewhere  in 
America  superior  to  the  winner,  but  our  committee  is  not 
concerned  with  hypothetical  cases. 

"We  are  not  concerned  with  mere  popularity.  Fluency, 
humor,  picturesqueness  of  phrase,  are  all  right  in  their  way, 
but  they  do  not  enter  into  the  competition." 

Formality  Versus  Informality 

The  cult  of  announcers  whose  fetish  was  over-precision 
and  exaggerated  tonalities  had  succeeded  in  establishing  a 
class  distinction.  In  1935  came  a  shift  to  the  left  in  the 
campaign  to  inject  more  friendliness  and  naturalness  into 
announcing.  The  radio  editor  of  the  New  York  Times, 
Orrin  E.  Dunlap,  Jr.,  recently  analyzed  this  trend:  "An- 
nouncers have  endeavored  to  sail  a  straight  line  between 
formality  and  informality  in  broadcasting,  but  have  gen- 
erally found  it  difficult  to  get  away  from  the  formal  side. 
Listeners  strongly  favor  the  informal  approach,  which  they 
testify  affords  a  welcome  relief  from  the  staccato,  'drama- 
tized' blasts  of  the  errorless,  trained  announcer. 

"Today  the  trick  is  to  handle  the  program  with  a  natural 
flair  that  makes  the  unseen  audience  feel  that  it  is  almost 
present  in  the  studio.  To  do  that  by  reading  what  some 
one  else  has  written  is  not  easy,  but  there  is  evidence  that 
it  can  be  done." 

No  announcer  who  has  employed  a  formal  manner  to 


excess  has  long  remained  on  the  air.  The  listener  is  averse 
to  the  elocutionary  skills  of  one  who  is  using  the  microphone 
to  show  how  pleased  he  is  with  his  own  voice.  An  over-smart 
precision  which  cuts  consonants  as  if  with  a  scalpel  destroys 
the  proper  pace  of  conversation  by  the  unusual  and  unvary- 
ing stress  on  single  phonetic  elements. 

Even  the  learned  Professor  Lloyd  James  takes  a  sharp 
critical  attitude  toward  the  over  perfect  announcers.  As 
linguistic  advisor  of  the  British  Broadcasting  Corporation, 
and  supervisor  of  announcers,  he  is  in  a  position  to  under- 
stand the  popular  ear. 

"The  chief  point  about  the  announcers  is  that  they  are 
all  too  slick — they  all  sound  too  respectable,"  said  Professor 
James.  "I  think  one  of  the  great  problems  is  to  reduce  this 
over-refinement.  There  is  no  person  in  this  world  who  sets 
his  face  against  this  so-called  Oxford  accent  more  than  I  do." 

The  early  success  of  Norman  Brokenshire  was  due  to  his 
folksy  manner.  The  audience  was  taken  in  by  his  jovial  greet- 
ing, "How  do  you  DO,  everybody,  how  DO  you  DO."  His 
voice  had  an  intimate  touch,  a  breezy  quality  that  was 
intriguing, — a  manner  imitated  by  scores  of  announcers 
without  success. 

No  one  will  deny  that  despite  the  arguments  of  the 
pedants,  radio  listeners  really  do  not  like  the  academically 
perfect  speakers.  They  prefer  an  informal  and  "human" 
approach,  even  if  the  delivery  is  slightly  defective.  No  one 
is  advised,  however,  to  set  to  work  to  become  "slightly  de- 
fective." It  is  all  part  of  a  natural  manner. 

Clyde  Fitch  Harris,  the  pioneer  manager  of  WHAS,  evalu- 
ates the  announcer  in  his  "Microphone  Memories": 

"The  greatest  gift  of  the  announcer  is  an  ability  to  create 
within  himself  a  fourth  dimension,  without  which  a  man 
may  have  mastered  those  other  requirements,  and  by  stop- 
ping there  remain  perhaps  an  acceptable  announcer,  but 
never  'tops.'  Ears  perceive  with  great  acuteness  and  register 

34  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

upon  minds  a  picture  of  the  man  himself.  Listeners  some- 
times call  it  personality,  magnetism,  or  charm.  Basically  it 
may  be  any  or  all  of  these.  But  transcending  them  is  that 
which  in  lieu  of  a  better  word,  I  call  the  fourth  dimension." 

The  first  recipients  of  this  award  were:  Milton  J.  Cross, 
Alwyn  Bach,  David  Ross,  John  Holbrook  and  James  Wal- 
lington.  In  1934  the  Academy  skipped  the  award  because  of 
failing  interest,  which  was  again  revived  the  following  year, 
when  the  coveted  medal  was  conferred  upon  Alois  Havrillas. 

Critics  have  complained,  however,  that  the  effects  upon 
speech  instead  of  being  salutary  have  definitely  veered 
toward  standardization.  The  whole  clan  of  announcers 
imitate  each  other's  style  and  in  a  sense  have  become  the 
standardized  medal  voice  of  America. 

A  note  of  protest  comes  from  Columbia  University. 
"American  radio  announcers  who  win  diction  prizes  are 
poor  models  for  speech  students,"  says  Prof.  George  W. 
Hibbett,  of  the  English  faculty.  "The  prize  winners  usually 
have  an  artificial  mode  of  speech  not  characteristic  of  any 
section  of  the  country." 

The  temptation  of  the  announcer  to  ape  his  successful 
fellow  announcer  is  berated  by  Basil  Ruysdael,  who  for  years 
was  a  basso  at  the  Metropolitan  Opera  House  before  he 
became  a  top-notcher  on  the  networks.  He  unblushingly 
submits  the  routine  of  "how  announcers  get  that  way": 
"Eight  or  ten  or  twelve  hours  a  day  talking  about  every- 
thing from  Iceland's  fish  to  the  latest  war;  copy  handed  them 
at  the  last  minute;  no  knowledge  of  any  product  that  they 
may  be  trying  to  sell;  a  parish  class  catching  a  boot  from 
the  president  of  the  station  down  to  the  page  boys;  strug- 
gling with  a  limited  vocabulary  to  encompass  the  simple 
pronunciation  of  the  toughest  language  on  earth — What  is 
the  result?  A  'style'  developed  from  a  core  of  contingencies 
and  dismal,  unrewarded  monotony. 

"If  an  announcer  is  a  'weak  sister/  "  continues  Ruysdael, 


"he  will  attempt  to  imitate  the  style  of  some  more  successful 
brother,  and  that  is  fatal,  for  unless  a  man  is  himself  he  is 
not  sincere,  and  if  he  is  not  sincere  he  will  not  convince, 
he  will  not  sell  goods,  including  himself. 

"Unless  a  man  has  an  analytical  mind  he  will  not  get  too 
far  announcing,  for  there  are  no  books  to  guide  him,  and 
no  teachers  to  be  had.  This  is  written  to  try  and  make  the 
new  year  a  more  tolerant  one  for  a  really  fine  class  of  men. 
I  hold  no  brief  for  the  style  boys,  the  imitators  and  the 
pounders.  Their  stay  is  brief  enough  as  it  is." 

Blame  for  formalism  in  speech  cannot  wholly  be  placed 
on  the  diction  awards  of  various  private  and  public  insti- 
tutions. If  they  have  set  false  norms  for  over-ambitious 
announcers,  they  at  least  have  done  much  to  raise  the 
standards  of  broadcasting.  Deciding  prize  awards  in  the  arts 
is  always  a  matter  of  great  difficulty,  and  at  least  as  John 
Erskine  says:  "The  result  of  such  awards  is  helpful  and 
stimulating  because  they  are  likely  to  help  discussion.  Dis- 
cussion that  follows  the  award  probably  does  more  good  than 
the  prize." 

Small  wonder  was  that  the  receipt  of  the  diction  medal 
became  somewhat  of  a  jinx.  The  point  was  reached  where 
announcers  dreaded  being  selected  for  the  citation,  and 
Dinty  Doyle  recalls  that  every  announcer  who  ever  won  it 
subsequently  suffered  reverses:  "Milton  J.  Cross,  Alwyn 
Bach,  James  Wallington,  John  S.  Young,  John  Holbrook 
and  David  Ross,  all  were  doing  all  right,  until  the  diction 
award  was  bestowed  on  them." 

Adaptable  Announcing 

The  announcer  may  not  be  master  of  his  own  voice.  The 
sponsor  may  demand  that  he  employ  certain  inflections  and 
take  on  a  vocal  quality  that  is  agreeable  to  the  sponsor. 
Experiences  show  that  the  manner  of  voice  may  depend 

36  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

upon  the  type  of  copy.  The  classifications  of  voice  styles  we 
give  are  not  intended  to  be  complete  but  are  intended  to 
be  merely  suggestive. 

1.  The  punchy  type:  The  staccato  voice  of  high  pressure 
in  salesmanship.  The  effect  is  that  of  the  pounding  of  a 
hammer.  Each  successive  blow  of  the  voice  rivets  the  matter 
home.  The  punch  copy  generally  consists  of  short  snappy 
sentences.  Andre  Baruch  heard  in  such  programs  as  "Just 
Plain  Bill"  and  "Evening  in  Paris"  is  master  of  this  style, 
in  spite  of  which  he  advises:  "I  always  visualize  one  or  two 
people  sitting  in  a  home  and  talk  directly  to  them.  The 
more  conversational  an  announcer  can  make  his  delivery, 
the  better."  What  Baruch  probably  means  is  the  conversa- 
tion yell. 

2.  Smooth  rhythms  in  voice:  This  style  belongs  to  the 
intimate  copy.  The  announcer  gently  and  kindly  insinuates 
that  the  listener's  life  is  not  complete  without  buying  the 
product  and  that  for  his  own  sweet  sake  he  must  give  it  a 
trial,  since  it  costs  no  more  than  the  other  kind  and  is  much 
more  effective.  Think  of  the  smooth  voice  of  Ben  Bernie 
gently  high-hat,  agreeably  superior. 

3.  The  effusive  and  gushing  type:  This  is  affected  mainly 
by  women  announcers — beauty  and  cooking  experts,  fashion 
advisors,  home  makers.   The  same  is  true  of  many  male 
announcers  who  have  been  air  salesmen  of  women's  wear 
and  accessories. 

4.  The  rollicky  laughter  type:  This  is  the  most  difficult 
trick   in  voice.   Announcers   generally  do   not   feel   funny 
enough  to  make  their  efforts  seem  real.  The  comedian  who 
laughs  at  his  own  jokes  as  an  air  salesman  often  fails  dis- 

5.  The  reverential  tone:  The  tone  is  exalted,  sometimes 
hushed  and  awed,  but  always  winds  up  with  the  manner  of 
one  who  will  save  our  souls  if  we  will  only  but  let  him. 

6.  "You-dont-have-to-believe-me"  intonation:  This  is  the 


announcer  who  puts  on  the  pretension  of  fairness  permitting 
the  listener  to  apply  his  own  judgment.  Such  mannerisms 
are  not  the  rule  because  sponsors  usually  prefer  the  dogmatic 

7.  The  sentimental  quality:  The  voice  takes  on  the  flavor 
of  wooing  rhythm.   Generally  the  announcer  speaks   to   a 
musical  background.  Such  dreamy  quality  is  not  justified 
by  a  sales  message  void  of  imagery. 

8.  Over-precise,     over-pedantic,     over-careful     approach: 
Such  speakers  articulate  consonant  sounds  and  separate  their 
syllables  as  if  they  were  proving  they  knew  how  to  spell.  To 
get  the  effect  of  such,  announcers  place  particular  stress  on 
each  syllable  in  the  words:  in-sti-tu-tion,  of-ten.  The  average 
listener  gets   the   feeling   that   such   announcers   are   going 
' 'high-hat"  and  will  fall  over  their  furniture  in  their  haste 
to  tune  them  out. 

9.  The  corny,  "Hello  folks!"  type,  in  the  manner  of  Bob 

10.  The   thundering  announcer:   The   sponsor  hopes   to 
give  his  program  distinction  by  having  his  announcer  talk 
louder  than  anyone  else  in  radio.  "You  can't  blame  the  an- 
nouncer for  it,"  said  Peter  Dixon  in  one  of  his  commentaries 
in  the  New  York  Sun.  "Usually  the  announcer  is  acting  un- 
der orders  from  the  sponsor  who  seems  to  take  great  delight 
in  having  his  sales  message  shouted."  They  hold  the  center 
of  the  stage  and  chew  the  scenery  while  they  tear  a  com- 
mercial pattern  to  tatters.  Eddie  Thorgersen  was  probably 
the  first  of  the  bellowing  school — and  through  no  fault  of 
his  own.  Under  orders,  Thorgersen  shouted  forth  the  merits 
of  a  certain   brand   of  cigarettes   until   he   was  christened 
"Thundering  Thorgersen."  Eddie  grew  to  hate  his  job.  He 
even  worked  long  hours  over-time  in  order  to  do  another 
type  of  announcing  on  another  program — and  a  very  pleas- 
ing job  he  did  too.  Though  his  bellow  paid  him  well  for  a 

38  RAPE   OF   RADIO 

time,  there  was  no  job  waiting  for  Eddie  when  he  had  fin- 
ished with  that  cigarette  program.  Finally  he  left  radio, 
though  you  still  hear  but  may  not  recognize  his  voice  behind 
some  of  the  news-reels. 

An  Examination  for  Announcers 

Under  Mayor  LaGuardia  of  New  York  City,  the  municipal 
broadcasting  station  WNYC  placed  its  entire  announcing 
staff  under  the  Civil  Service.  Applicants  were  required  to 
take  an  extensive  written  test  and  the  practical  test  before 
the  microphone.  In  1938  over  a  thousand  candidates  applied 
for  the  position  and  they  sat  down  to  a  six  hour  written  quiz 
from  which  a  few  of  the  questions  follow: 

The  best  way  to  evaluate  a  radio  program  is  to  count  the 
number  of  its  listeners.  Is  this  a  valid  statement?  Why  or 
why  not? 

Every  radio  program  should  be  an  entity  which  is  com- 
plete in  and  of  itself.  Do  you  agree? 

Radio  action  must  be  concerned  with  that  which  is 
familiar  to  the  listener.  Do  you  agree? 

Silence  is  one  of  the  best  of  all  sound  effects.  Is  this  a  valid 
statement?  Why  or  why  not? 

List  the  methods  of  scoring  used  and  the  parts  or  intervals 
into  which  each  of  the  following  is  divided:  Football; 
hockey;  basketball. 

Write  a  fifty-word  announcement  in  introduction  to  the 
radio  presentation  of  a  typical  Army-Navy  football  game. 

Can  any  radio  program  be  entirely  devoid  of  propaganda? 

State  the  nature  of  three  amendments  to  the  New  York 
State  Constitution  which  were  approved  in  the  recent  elec- 

Name  three  functions  of  the  Federal  Communications 

Write  a  fifty-word  announcement  on  the  purpose  of  the 


Lima  Conference  in  introduction  to  the  radio  presentation 
of  a  talk  on  Pan-American  relations. 

Write  a  fifty-word  announcement  on  the  extent  to  which 
New  York  City  has  developed  a  public  housing  program  in 
introduction  to  a  talk  on  housing  in  New  York  City. 

Write  a  fifty-word  announcement  on  the  provisions  of  the 
new  Wages  and  Hours  Bill  in  introduction  to  a  talk  on  in- 
dustrial legislation. 

Explain  briefly  the  following  musical  terms:  Oratorio, 
concerto,  fugue,  symphony,  sonata,  tone  poem. 

Write  a  fifty-word  announcement  on  Liszt  suitable  in  in- 
troduction to  the  radio  presentation  of  the  Hungarian  Rhap- 
sody No.  2. 

The  second  part  of  the  examination  tested  the  candidates' 
knowledge  of  English.  The  candidate  was  asked  to  define  a 
list  of  words  such  as:  Diapason,  bucolic,  spoliate,  succinct, 
etymology,  etc. 

A   Test  for  Announcers 

A  large  part  of  broadcasting  deals  with  music.  You  will 
therefore  be  asked  to  read  material  dealing  with  composers 
and  their  compositions.  In  an  instant  your  familiarity  with 
the  foreign  languages  can  be  determined.  Below  is  a  sample 
audition  given  aspiring  announcers  by  the  Columbia  Broad- 
casting System. 

"Among  other  prominent  musical  directors  you  will  hear 
are  Gustave  Haenschen  and  his  orchestra,  the  Detroit  Sym- 
phony under  the  direction  of  Ossip  Gabrilowitsch,  featuring 
Jascha  Heifetz  and  Fritz  Kreisler  as  guest  soloists.  Ignace 
Jan  Paderewski  will  accompany  a  concert  featuring  the 
phenomenal  youngster,  Jehudi  Menhuin,  while  Ernestine 
Schumann-Heink  will  sing  the  Erl  King  of  Franz  Schubert. 

"Among  the  other  composers  you  will  hear  are  Jacob 

40  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

Ludwig,  Felix  Mendelssohn,  Johann  Sebastian  Bach,  Lud- 
wig  von  Beethoven,  Charles  Camille,  Saint-Saens,  Richard 
Strauss  (the  famous  Till  Eulenspiegels) — Richard  Wagner, 
Moszkowski,  Cesar  Cui,  Giacomo  Meyerbeer,  Guiseppe 
Verdi,  Wolfgang  Amadeus  Mozart,  Carl  Maria  von  Weber, 
Christoph  Willibald  von  Gluck,  Gioachino  Antonio  Rossini, 
Vincenzo  Bellini,  Gaetano  Donizetti,  Arrigo  Boito  and  Amil- 
care  Ponchielli,  closing  with  Hector  Louis  Berlioz,  Friedrich 
von  Flotow,  Charles  Francois  Gounod,  Ambroise  Thomas 
and  Alexandre  C.  L.  George  Bizet.  We  regret  that  we  will  be 
unable  to  present  the  works  of  Giacomo  Puccini  as  they  are 
at  present  under  restriction." 

And  finally  try  this  bit  of  stuff  judiciously  prepared  for 
aspiring  announcers.  Bob  Cunningham,  program  director  of 
KIOL,  Omatya,  devised  a  paragraph  not  intended  as  a 
standard  test,  but  used  mainly  on  staff  announcers: 

"Some  aspirants  regard  an  announcer's  audition  as  a 
chance  for  a  coup;  others  with  all  the  apparent  symptoms  of 
the  ague.  However  formidable  it  may  appear  to  be,  it  is  best 
to  enter  into  it  with  all  the  savoir  faire  at  your  command; 
much  as  an  Irishman  enters  a  melee — to  be  enjoyed,  win  or 
lose.  A  bona  fide  announcer  will  do  the  best  he  can  with 
words  he  doesn't  know,  and  will  try  sincerely,  even  though 
he  misses." 

Announcers  might  take  lessons  on  tongue  twisters  from 
Harry  von  Zell.  Every  week  a  script  writer  pores  through  the 
dictionary  hunting  up  tough  words  for  Harry  to  read  in  in- 
troducing Fred  Allen  Wednesday  nights.  This  is  one  sample: 
"Presenting  that  lackadaisical  leviathan  of  laconic  lampoon, 
laughter  loving  lullabies  and  ludicrous  linguistic  leap-frog 
and  legerdemain,  Fred  Allen  in  person."  Or  try  to  race 
through  this  at  the  von  Zell  pace:  "That  rip-roaring  rococo 
Romeo  of  ridiculous  roguish  rigmarole,  rhapsodic  repartee 
and  romping  roundelay." 

This  has  been  going  on  all  season,  a  new  one  each  week, 


and  so  far  Harry  hasn't  tripped  once.   The  script  writer 
swears  he'll  get  Harry  before  the  season  is  out. 

Try  This  on  Your  Enunciator 

(A  sample  of  the  type  of  test  given  to  aspiring  announcers 
by  the  Columbia  Broadcasting  System.  Columbia  says  that 
the  man  who  can  handle  it  without  mistake  is  a  rare  one  and 
a  well  educated  person.) 

"Judging  by  the  demands  made  upon  the  modern  radio 
announcer,  that  unfortunate  individual  must,  indeed,  be 
a  perambulating  encyclopedia  or  the  ancient  curator  of  some 
Atheneum,  for  whom  the  entire  subject  of  belles-lettres  has 
become  the  sine  qua  non  of  the  intelligent  citizen.  What  is 
more,  he  is  expected  to  air  his  profound  knowledge  with  the 
terseness  of  an  apothegm  and  with  the  easy  grace  of  a  ro- 
mantic caballero.  He  must  deliver  himself  of  bromidic  cliches 
with  the  same  facility  as  of  the  profundities  of  the  bel- 
esprit;  perhaps,  too,  he  must  accede  to  the  demands  of  the 
etymological  efforts  of  some  client  who  has  used  the  roots 
of  several  classical  tongues  in  the  concoction  of  some  bon 
mot  with  which  to  dub  his  superlative  product.  Although  it 
has  not  been  our  aim  to  discourage  the  applicant,  we  might 
warn  the  esthetic  aspirant  that  many  months  of  the  life  of 
a  broadcast  announcer  might  easily  hurl  him  into  the  very 
depths  of  asceticism." 

The  Art  of  Ad-libbing 

Announcers  are  divided  into  two  groups,  those  who  read 
prepared  scripts  and  those  who  are  thrown  upon  their  own 
resources  on  the  instant.  The  announcers  who  broadcast 
the  dispatches  of  the  United  Press  and  other  news  associa- 
tions are  mere  copy  readers. 

42  RAPE   OF   RADIO 

Many  well-known  studio  announcers,  and  among  them 
David  Ross,  admit  that  their  routine  never  requires  them 
to  ad-lib  a  single  sentence.  Jimmy  Wallington  shows  ready 
talent  as  an  ad-libber,  and  Ben  Grauer  of  CBS  has  been 
tested  in  every  situation  requiring  facile  speaking  without 

An  important  test  is  your  ability  to  think  fast  on  your  feet. 
At  any  moment,  you  may  be  forced  to  speak  extemporane- 
ously or  to  fill  in  a  "wait"  or  a  gap.  An  announcer  may  be 
able  to  read  from  a  script  perfectly  but  prove  to  be  inept 
when  faced  with  a  special  problem.  The  networks  prefer 
those  announcers  who  do  not  grope  for  words  during  an 

Through  habit  and  experience  an  announcer  should  learn 
these  rules  of  action:  i,  Think  fast.  2,  Speak  smoothly.  3, 
Speak  accurately.  4,  Do  not  lose  your  head. 

In  a  Chicago  studio  Jean  Paul  King  is  announcing  a 
homemaker's  program  in  which  Grace  Gray  is  talking  on 
home  decorations.  The  lady  commences  to  talk.  She  talks 
for  about  three  minutes  and  then  becomes  faint.  She  sways 
and  is  about  to  fall.  Well, — what  to  do? 

This  is  what  Jean  Paul  King  does.  He  catches  hold  of 
Miss  Gray's  limp  form  with  his  left  arm,  and  clings  to  the 
script  with  his  right  hand,  speaks  directly  into  the  micro- 
phone, "As  Grace  Vial  Gray  was  going  to  say  ..."  At  this 
point  the  control  man  rushes  from  his  booth  to  carry  the 
fainting  lady  away  from  the  microphone. 

The  average  staff  announcer  on  the  networks  has  been 
deprived  of  the  privilege  of  ad-libbing.  He  has  been  reduced 
to  the  status  of  a  mere  reader.  He  may  not  even  mention 
his  name  at  will.  He  is  furnished  with  a  script  and  from 
that  script  he  must  not  depart.  Any  variation  from  the 
script  comes  under  the  head  of  emergency  announcing. 

Experience  has  made  it  possible  for  the  networks  to  cata- 


logue  the  usual  breaks.  The  announcer  is  provided  with  a 
manual  which  contains  the  exact  words  to  be  used  for 
emergency  announcing.  Let  us  presume  that  the  program 
fails  to  start  within  its  allotted  forty-five  seconds  of  the  sched- 
uled time:  the  CBS  announcer,  to  meet  this  emergency,  has 
but  to  turn  to  his  manual  which  reads:  "We  regret  that  due 
to  operating  difficulties,  we  are  unable  to  present  immedi- 
ately the  program  .  In  the  meantime,  we  offer ." 

Each  broadcasting  station  has  its  own  set  of  rules  for  the 
announcers  but  the  regulations  are  much  the  same.  An- 
nouncers must  not  attempt  to  be  facetious.  No  puns,  no 
wisecracks  about  song  titles  or  situations.  Analysis  shows 
that  the  average  announcer  is  very  apt  to  become  boring 
if  he  attempts  extended  ad-lib  descriptions.  The  commentary 
furnished  him  is,  therefore,  limited  to  brief  and  concise 

It  is  regarded  as  poor  showmanship  to  call  attention  to  the 
closing  of  the  program.  Announcers  are  warned  to  avoid 
introducing  a  concluding  number  with  phrases  such  as: 

"Finally  the  orchestra  presents ,"  "In  conclusion,"  or 

"Closing  the  program ,"  Better  leave  such  finishing 

impressions  alone. 

Certain  other  regulations  might  also  be  mentioned.  The 
networks  frown  on  the  frequent  use  of  "Ladies  and  Gentle- 
men" or  the  abuse  of  such  trite  phrases  as  "This  time  we 
bring  you,"  "Now  we  hear"  and  "Now  we  present."  Even 
during  multiple-point  news  broadcasts,  the  announcer  is 
urged  to  avoid  such  phrases  as  "Thank  you,  Mr.  -  — ."  An- 
nouncers must  refrain,  wherever  possible,  from  referring  to 
the  period  of  the  day.  A  New  York  announcer  might  be  say- 
ing, "We  present  this  afternoon,"  when  it  is  still  morning 
in  California.  The  public  for  some  unexplained  reason  is 
presumed  to  resent  being  reminded  of  this  difference  in 

44  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

Enter — The  New  Radio  Ringmaster 

The  variety  program  brought  into  being  a  super-an- 
nouncer known  as  "Master  of  Ceremonies"  which  radio 
abbreviates  as  "em  cee."  The  radio  em  cee  is  just  a  new  ver- 
sion of  the  interlocutor  of  the  old  minstrel  show,  the  chair- 
man of  the  English  music-hall,  the  compere  of  the  conti- 
nental music  revue  and  the  toast-master  of  the  banquet  hall. 

Radio  has  established  new  duties  for  the  em  cee.  He  tells 
the  listener  everything  that  in  the  theater  can  be  seen  with 
the  naked  eye.  He  describes  the  numbers,  identifies  the  per- 
formers and  sets  the  stage  with  the  right  verbal  touch  which 
enables  listeners  to  "see." 

Earlier  routines  of  the  em  cee  were  baldly  to  introduce  the 
singer  or  performer  and  give  the  title  of  his  selection:  "Next 
Al  Jolson  will  sing  'Mammy'."  Someone  conceived  the  no- 
tion that  announcements  in  themselves  might  be  couched 
in  an  entertaining  fashion.  Something  brilliant  and  scintil- 
lating could  be  conveyed  in  a  few  words  of  introduction.  A 
new  routine  required  a  line  of  patter  and  thus  the  em  cee 
became  a  definite  part  in  the  pattern  of  entertainment. 

Translated  into  his  new  role  under  the  exigencies  of  the 
variety  program,  the  em  cee  became  the  suave  butler  of  the 
air  who  ushers  guest  performers  into  the  home  with  the 
happiest  approach.  Deems  Taylor  finds  that  the  variety  pro- 
gram affords  the  widest  scope  to  the  talents  of  the  em  cee 
because  of  its  admixture  of  performers. 

The  Discovery  of  the  Em  Cee 

Sponsors  at  first  experimented  with  members  of  the  reg- 
ular announcing  group.  Many  of  these  announcers  schooled 
in  the  artificial  manner,  utterly  failed  to  vitalize  the  pro- 
gram. It  was  necessary  to  go  outside  the  announcing  field  to 
discover  new  voices. 


Let  us  glance  backwards  a  few  years.  The  sponsor  was 
slow  to  encourage  his  advertising  agency  to  enlist  the  liter- 
ary man.  An  unusual  gift  of  geniality  and  culture  was  found 
in  John  Erskine  as  em  cee  on  the  series  of  guest  star  pro- 
grams inaugurated  by  Katherine  Hepburn  over  NBC.  In 
1936,  radio  turned  to  Cecil  de  Mille,  Rupert  Hughes,  and 
John  McCormack,  whom  we  shall  consider  briefly. 

The  Lux  Radio  Theater  and  the  Hollywood  industry 
placed  the  toga  of  em  cee  on  the  shoulders  of  Cecil  de  Mille. 
Here  was  a  man  to  be  respected.  Indeed  the  giant  of  the 
movies  has  a  sincerity  of  voice,  a  quiet  and  calm  that  "gets" 
the  listener.  However,  de  Mille  can  make  his  words  sound 
silly  when  he  is  constantly  gushing  over  the  charm  of  his 
performers,  who  in  turn  pay  him  the  same  fulsome  compli- 
ments. Radio  has  fostered  this  oleaginous  introducing  of 
stars  who  call  each  other  tenderly  by  their  first  names.  All 
of  this  business  is  written  into  the  script.  This  induces  an 
overdone  "folksy"  attitude,  and  the  em  cee  is  soon  suspected 
of  playing  false  with  the  listener. 

Rupert  Hughes  in  the  role  of  em  cee  was  not  blessed  with 
what  radio  producers  call  a  good  radio  voice.  But  on  the 
Camel  program  he  made  up  for  his  lack  of  resonance  and 
fresh  quality  by  the  fatherly  manner  of  a  genial  host  who  is 
glad  you  are  listening.  Even  when  extolling  the  virtues  of 
a  cigarette,  he  has  a  genuineness,  and  that  is  what  counts 

Let  us  identify  a  few  prominent  exponents  of  the  art. 
Jimmy  Wallington  first  came  into  national  prominence  as 
a  dignified  master  of  ceremonies  presiding  over  short  wave 
programs  broadcast  to  Admiral  Richard  E.  Byrd  on  his  first 
voyage  to  the  South  Pole.  In  1930,  when  recalled  to  New 
York  by  NBC,  Wallington  swerved  from  his  duties  as  em  cee 
to  the  career  of  straight  man  for  Cantor,  Chevalier,  Benny, 
Jessel  and  other  comedians. 

As  for  Rudy  Vallee,  he  won  his  radio  spurs  as  a  crooner. 

46  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

He  established  a  new  personality  as  em  cee  on  his  own  Va- 
riety Hour.  Quite  seriously,  he  cultivated  his  speaking  voice 
until  every  word  carried  a  sense  of  friendly  intention.  Every 
leading  performer  is  identified  by  the  phrase  of  greeting 
with  which  he  opens  the  program.  The  first  words  must 
carry  that  warmth,  the  warmth  which  listeners  would  expect 
of  their  friends. 

In  the  free  and  informal  manner  of  the  em  cee  lies  the 
danger  of  cheap  wit,  vulgarisms  and  undue  familiarities  with 
the  performers.  It  is  difficult  to  trace  this  tendency  but  Ted 
Husing  in  "Ten  Years  Before  the  Mike"  ascribes  it  to  the 
first  attempts  of  certain  radio  characters  to  throw  comedy 
into  the  bored  American  home.  These  were  essentially  par- 
lor entertainers,  amateur  comedians  and  philosophers  and 
neighborhood  celebrities.  "Even  New  York  City  had  one 
of  them,"  explains  Husing,  "  'N.T.G.'  of  Station  WHN,  an 
ex-preacher  named  Nils  Thor  Granlund,  and  known  to  his 
friends  as  Granny.  He  clowned,  read  poetry  in  exaggerated 
ham  fashion,  insulted  performers  at  the  mike,  and  started 
the  first  phoney  radio  feud — with  Harry  Richman,  whom 
he  introduced  to  the  air." 

Not  every  species  of  em  cee  humor  is  understood  by  the 
radio  audience.  There  are  those  who  would  be  offended  by 
Alan  Courtney's  manner  as  em  cee  on  a  WNEW  program 
called  "Din  at  Eight."  Instead  of  following  the  old  custom 
of  praising  all  his  artists  lavishly,  Courtney  jovially  insults 
them,  brings  them  to  the  microphone  in  a  shower  of  what  is 
meant  for  good  natured  abuse  and  warns  the  audience.  The 
masterful  em  cee  like  James  Melton  can  sing,  act  in  any  role, 
make  himself  the  foil  for  guest  stars  or  comedians  and  build 
up  the  unfailing  verbal  bridges  that  link  the  performers. 

The  average  radio  program  is  a  pretty  heterogeneous 
affair,  frequently  deserving  the  name  "Program"  only  in 
that  it  begins  and  ends  at  a  specified  time.  It  usually  man- 
ages to  offer,  in  the  space  of  forty-five  or  sixty  minutes,  an 


assortment  of  strange  bedfellows  that  makes  politics  look 
like  an  amateur.  Mix  together  an  opera  singer,  a  crooner, 
a  jazz  band,  a  few  minutes  of  melodrama,  a  comedian,  and 
a  violin  virtuoso,  to  say  nothing  of  two  or  three  sales  talks, 
and  you  have  something  that  brings  to  mind  Stephen  Lea- 
cock's  immortal  hero  who  "Mounted  his  horse  and  rode 
rapidly  off  in  all  directions." 

The  task  of  the  em  cee  is  not  simple.  He  must  definitely 
blend  all  the  numbers  on  the  program  with  appropriate 
transitions  so  that  the  show  builds  up  with  a  unified  spirit 
and  plan.  Each  and  every  part  somehow  becomes  integrated 
with  the  entire  production.  The  trick  is  achieved  by  racy 
dialogue  between  em  cee  and  the  performers.  All  this  helps 
produce  the  "company"  effect  which  intrigues  the  listener 
into  the  belief  that  its  members  are  one  family  of  enter- 

The  Genius  of  Geniality 

What  makes  a  successful  em  cee?  The  first  and  most  im- 
portant asset  of  an  em  cee  is  geniality.  His  manner  gives  the 
audience  the  impression  of  the  good  fellow  who  will  pat 
you  on  the  back  as  if  he  had  known  you  all  your  life,  then 
will  introduce  you  to  the  people  with  easy  assurance.  He 
somehow  manages  to  say  the  right  thing  at  the  right  time. 
It  is  for  this  reason  that  Bing  Crosby  with  his  lackadaisical 
witticisms  quickly  "gets  the  audience."  He  blends  the  parts 
of  the  program  by  the  use  of  quick  repartee  skillfully  studied 
to  end  in  a  gag  line.  When  there  is  a  comedian  on  the  pro- 
gram the  continuity  is  woven  about  the  personal  characteris- 
tics of  the  performers.  It  has  become  the  custom  to  impress 
the  em  cee  with  the  job  of  straight  man.  In  such  case,  the 
problem  of  the  em  cee  is  to  relate  his  method  to  the  com- 
edian's style  and  to  adapt  himself  as  a  stooge. 

A  program  which  may  be  otherwise  quite  creditable  is 
made  ineffably  dull  by  an  em  cee  who  is  a  third  rate  co- 

48  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

median.  Instead  of  keeping  the  movement  lively  and  ani- 
mated such  an  em  cee  succeeds  in  making  it  limp.  The  em 
cee  who  essays  the  comedy  role  must  be  to  the  manner  born. 
A  number  of  band  leaders  have  climbed  into  public  favor 
as  em  cees  of  their  programs.  Everybody  remembers  "Heigh, 
ho!  Everybody,  this  is  Rudy  Vallee!"  There  is  Horace  Heidt, 
and  Ben  Bernie,  and  Paul  Whiteman.  Bernie  and  Heidt  in- 
terrupt the  music  with  repartee.  Dorsey  is  a  jovial  conver- 
sationalist. Chatter  unless  it  is  pointed  soon  annoys.  The 
average  band  leader  should  confine  himself  to  his  baton. 
Kay  Kayser  as  a  talking  band  leader  has  become  one  of  the 
network's  better  comedians,  but  his  quiz  formula  may  soon 
fade.  A  band  leader  must  decide  whether  he  is  a  comedian 
or  a  musician. 

Humanizing  the  Program 

Today  the  em  cee  carries  the  burden  of  humanizing  the 
musical  classics  of  the  world.  This  type  of  em  cee  is  an  added 
feature  of  even  the  most  important  musical  concerts.  The 
aim  of  such  announcing  is  to  take  the  great  and  near  great 
in  music  and  bring  them  down  to  the  common  level.  The 
script  calls  for  familiar  joking,  calling  celebrities  by  their 
first  name,  and  exposing  them  to  a  merciless  badinage.  A 
few  of  the  mighty  like  Arturo  Toscanini  are  spared  this 
personal  approach.  Imagine  what  would  happen  to  Bing 
Crosby  if  he  congratulated  Toscanini  with  a  familiarism 
like:  "Attaboy  Arturo!" 

Al  Jolson  calls  Deems  Taylor  "Deemsie"  and  Bing  Crosby 
hails  Toscha  Seidel  "Toscha"  and  the  distinguished  Ernest 
Schelling  is  dubbed  "Uncle  Ernie."  This  is  an  invitation  for 
the  musically  great  to  cut  capers  around  the  microphone. 

The  familiar  attitude  of  the  em  cee  has  been  referred  to  as 
a  "humanizing  method."  In  reality  it  often  dehumanizes  and 
at  best  is  a  vulgar  kind  of  condescension  that  stands  for 


humor  and  is  supposed  to  make  the  masses  feel  at  home  with 
the  artist. 

The  sponsors  defend  such  a  method:  "Dialers  want  to 
know  the  performers  as  real  folks,  and  they  enjoy  them  be- 
cause they  are  'regular.'  "  The  sponsor  formula  of  making 
a  performer  "regular"  usually  consists  in  taking  the  artist 
off  his  high  and  mighty  throne  by  having  the  em  cee  lash 
the  performer  with  gags  in  a  way  that  only  radio  will  permit. 
For  the  moment  dignity  is  surrendered  and  the  artist  is  on 
the  sponsor's  level. 

The  Em  Cee  as  a  Musical  Commentator 

The  very  name  of  a  music  commentator  should  carry 
weight  and  authority.  This  implies  that  the  commentator 
has  not  only  an  extensive  technical  background,  but  in  addi- 
tion is  able  to  interpret  for  a  large  public  the  significance 
of  important  creative  works.  Critics  like  Deems  Taylor  and 
Lawrence  Gilman  had  already  established  themselves  through 
their  writings  before  the  advent  of  radio.  The  new  medium 
enabled  the  critics  to  spread  musical  appreciation  to  a  new 
listening  public  that  never  bothered  its  head  to  read  musical 
press  notices. 

The  music  commentator  can  be  most  boring  or  most  fas- 
cinating. Much  will  depend  on  his  approach  in  voice  and  the 
selection  of  his  material.  It  may  be  too  much  of  an  ideal  to 
expect  that  he  make  his  talks  as  enjoyable  as  the  orchestra 

Deems  Taylor,  Chotzinoff,  Damrosch  and  Black  have  es- 
sayed the  role  of  em  cee  with  distinction.  Deems  Taylor  is 
Director  of  Serious  Music  at  NBC  and  Samuel  Chotzinoff 
occupies  a  similar  position  at  CBS. 

Dr.  Walter  Damrosch,  Director  of  NBC's  Music  Appre- 
ciation Hour,  proved  that  technicalities  could  be  reduced 
to  the  level  of  children  and  the  most  initiated  listeners. 


50  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

Dr.  Frank  Black  who  once  became  commentator  as  well 
as  conductor  of  his  string  symphony  concerts  declared:  "I 
will  not  be  technical,  because  I  don't  think  music  lovers 
like  to  be  bored  by  the  fact  that  triplet  figures  enter  into  the 
descending  theme  in  juxtaposition  to  the  inverted  chief 
melody.  I  would  like  to  tell  them  that  in  this  spot,  the  com- 
poser tried  to  ape  one  of  the  good  composers  of  jazz  or  that 
he  may  have  gotten  a  little  beyond  his  depth." 

The  music  commentator  as  em  cee  is  setting  new  standards 
in  music  criticism  over  the  air.  The  critic's  judgment  should 
be  finely  balanced.  Criticism  should  not  be  synonymous  with 
fault  finding,  as  Deems  Taylor  puts  it.  He  says,  "He  doesn't 
blame  a  waltz  for  not  being  a  symphony  and  he  doesn't 
abuse  a  street  fiddler  for  not  being  a  Mischa  Elman."  He 
emphasizes  the  merits  rather  than  the  faults  of  a  composi- 
tion. In  short,  the  music  commentator  must  know  the  struc- 
ture of  criticism  so  as  to  make  the  radio  audience  feel  that 
he  is  just  and  fair  in  respecting  everyone's  taste. 

The  method  of  Deems  Taylor,  ever  since  he  appeared  on 
the  very  first  broadcast  CBS  aired  in  1922,  might  be  studied 
to  advantage.  He  is  perhaps  at  his  best  when  he  interprets 
the  selections  of  the  Philharmonic  Orchestra  from  Carnegie 
Hall  in  New  York. 

First,  Taylor  is  a  model  of  restraint.  He  abounds  in  in- 
formation without  being  pedantic.  He  gets  down  to  earth, 
but  never  condescends.  If  he  were  to  talk  as  a  high  and 
mighty  critic  he  would  fail  dismally.  It  is  a  subtle  art  to 
spread  the  canons  of  good  taste  and  yet  leave  the  listener 
free  to  exercise  his  own  judgment. 

Second,  Taylor  writes  every  word  of  the  script  himself, 
and  from  the  deep  fund  of  his  knowledge  he  can  draw  on 
the  right  sources.  He  employs  light  material  for  his  introduc- 
tions and  then  swerves  into  more  serious  discourse  as  the 
nature  of  the  subject  demands.  All  this  implies  the  gift  of 
selecting  material  that  will  both  instruct  and  entertain.  Tay- 


lor  may  spend  from  five  to  six  hours  on  a  twelve-minute 
script.  Newsweek  quotes  him  as  saying  that  during  these 
hours  he  "practically  lives  with  a  dictionary  because  'the 
minute  one  makes  a  slip  over  the  radio  there  are  thousands 
who  don't  wait  a  minute  to  write  about  it'." 

Third,  the  fact  that  Taylor  writes  his  own  script  enables 
him  to  adapt  his  style  to  his  own  mannerisms  in  voice.  He 
may  repeat  a  sentence  forty  times  before  he  is  sure  it  sounds 
completely  casual  and  natural.  Instead  of  hearing  a  learned 
man  reading  an  encyclopedia  extract,  the  listener  catches 
the  friendly  voice  of  a  man  who  neither  poses  as  critic  nor 
superimposes  himself  as  commentator. 

What  is  the  secret  of  this  colloquial  touch  that  seems  some- 
how to  engage  the  willing  ear  and  confidence  of  the  listener? 
In  a  recent  issue  of  Stage,  Deems  Taylor  himself  discloses: 
"We  don't  talk  as  we  write,"  he  explains.  "We  use  broken 
phrases,  unfinished  sentences,  repetition.  When  I  write  my 
radio  script  I  always  talk  it  along.  If  I  just  wrote  the  thing 
it  wouldn't  sound  right  over  the  microphone.  I  can't  sound 
convincing  reading  someone  else's  words." 

The  Em  Gee  in  Audience  Anticipation 

Programs  requiring  audience  participation  demand  the 
services  of  a  director  who  at  the  same  time  must  be  a  master- 
ful em  cee.  His  success  depends  upon  his  spontaneous  gift 
of  humor,  his  play  on  words,  a  sparkle  of  sentiment,  and 
above  all  on  an  understanding  of  the  psychology  of  the  indi- 
vidual. In  this  type  of  program  is  included  the  Amateur 
Hours,  the  best  exponent  of  which  is  Major  Bowes'  Original. 

Not  every  announcer  can  go  through  the  school  of  ex- 
perience which  J.  E.  (Dinty)  Doyle  calls  attention  to  in  a  pro- 
gram which  originated  at  KFRC,  San  Francisco,  some  ten 
years  ago.  Each  Monday  night  a  two-hour  show  was  staged 
known  as  Blue  Monday  Jamboree.  The  announcer  who  pre- 

52  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

sided  over  this  Jamboree  had  unequalled  opportunity  to 
test  his  talent  on  a  program  which  was  composed  of  com- 
munity singing,  spelling  bees,  bridge  games,  an  amateur 
department,  questions  and  answers,  knotty  problems,  inter- 
views with  movie  stars  and  people  prominent  in  the  news, 
and  of  remote  controls  which  sent  men  with  mikes  to  gab 
with  people  in  front  of  the  entrances  to  San  Francisco's 
famous  hotels. 

The  em  cee  should  be  cautious  in  the  use  of  his  adjectives 
especially  if  he  is  ad-libbing.  Adjectives  like  great,  magnifi- 
cent, extraordinary,  carry  great  weight.  Audiences  resent 
such  exaggerations  in  the  face  of  a  mediocre  performance.  It 
is  a  mistake  to  suppose  the  public  is  neither  wise  nor  critical 
when  the  em  cee  builds  up  a  very  ordinary  performer  into 
a  commanding  artist.  If  such  exaggerations  are  written  into 
the  script  the  em  cee  is  in  danger  of  losing  popularity.  You 
can't  fool  the  people  all  the  time. 

The  humanized  tone  of  the  em  cee  should  pervade  the 
entire  program.  It  keeps  the  microphone  warm  and  glow- 
ing. The  problem  is  to  speak  with  enthusiasm  and  whole- 
someness  so  that  what  is  being  spoken  becomes  entertain- 
ment in  itself. 

The  Em  Cee  as  Comedian 

The  abundant  use  of  gags  by  the  em  cee  follows  the  device 
of  vaudeville.  In  the  theater  the  em  cee  filled  the  unavoidable 
gap  between  numbers  when  the  scenery  had  to  be  changed. 
He  kept  up  a  steady  stream  of  patter  to  keep  the  audience 
in  good  humor.  Today  the  radio  em  cee  is  obliged  to  fill  a 
similar  function  for  the  listener.  While  there  is  no  scenery 
to  be  changed,  often  a  new  setting  or  mood  must  be  created 
for  the  next  performer.  An  artful  touch  by  the  em  cee  can 
provide  the  necessary  contact  between  music  numbers  or 
various  types  of  performers. 

The  stock  method  of  perfecting  this  transition  is  to  fill  in 


waiting  moments  with  a  mouthful  of  gags.  Hence  there  has 
grown  up  the  species  known  as  the  gag-type  em  cee. 

Radio  Quizzes 

The  unconquerable  urge  of  a  considerable  proportion  of 
the  American  populace  to  display  its  ignorance  over  a  na- 
tion-wide hookup  is  one  of  the  most  mysterious  phenomena 
of  our  time.  It  is  comparable  only  to  those  little  animals  who 
insist  on  swimming  out  to  sea  and  drowning  themselves  en 
masse.  However,  there  seem  to  be  more  and  more  quiz  pro- 
grams, with  more  and  more  people  appearing  on  them. 

Listening  to  these  broadcasts  at  home  is  well  enough  in 
its  way,  but  most  people  suffer  from  a  good  deal  of  curiosity 
about  these  lambs  going  to  their  self-imposed  slaughter.  It 
is  an  experience  to  get  some  tickets  and  actually  see  the 
broadcast  taking  place. 

Some  of  it  is  pretty  peculiar.  On  one  quiz  program  an 
announcer  comes  out  and  explains  that  when  he  raises  his 
hand  he  wants  the  studio  audience  to  chatter  "just  like  chil- 
dren in  a  school  room,"  and  when  he  wriggles  his  fingers  he 
wants  quiet.  Everybody  politely  does  as  he  asks. 

The  contestants  look  calm  or  sheepish,  or  completely  un- 
happy. There  is  generally  one  self-possessed  man  who  doesn't 
know  anything  much  but  makes  a  lot  of  wisecracks  at  which 
the  studio  audience  is  encouraged  to  laugh  hysterically. 
There  is  also  usually  one  little  Miss  Smartypants  who  knows 
everything  and  doesn't  make  a  spectacle  of  herself  by  gig- 
gling. The  women  in  the  audience  view  her  with  appro- 

Professor  Quiz  picks  out  a  man  from  the  crowd  unaware 
of  the  man's  communistic  tendencies.  Professor  Quiz  asks 
him  rather  grandiloquently:  "And  you  sir — what  do  YOU 
thing  of  the  busses?"  The  answer  brought  gales  of  laughter 

54  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

from  the  crowd.  It  was:  "De  bosses — de  bosses — you  esk  me 
about  de  bosses — veil,  I  say  quick — DOWN  with  de  bosses!" 

As  an  exercise  it  would  be  well  to  invent  embarrassing 
moments  like  these  and  supply  the  quip  or  remark  that  will 
take  the  edge  off  any  overbold  or  untoward  utterance  which 
is  the  taboo  of  radio. 

The  men  who  handle  the  currently  popular  audience  par- 
ticipation programs  must  think  and  talk  with  swift  response. 
They  are  presumed  to  be  masters  of  ad-libbing. 

Be  prepared  to  meet  this  criticism  of  John  B.  Kennedy, 
the  NBC  expert  announcer,  which  he  made  in  a  recent  issue 
of  The  Commentator:  "Half  the  quiz-program  boys  would 
astonish  the  listeners  by  their  bewilderment  if  an  awkward 
question  upset  the  routine  of  their  specious  ad-libbing  which 
is  largely  rote." 


A  master  of  ceremonies  should  truly  be  master  of  the  pro- 
gram. This  sense  of  command  is  conveyed  to  the  listeners 
by  factors  which  are  almost  intangible.  Listeners  are  moved 
by  an  easy,  familiar  manner  in  voice.  Something  about  the 
speaker  seems  alive,  sincere,  delightful  and  refreshing.  Every- 
thing he  says  springs  from  the  spirit  of  the  performance  and 
gives  the  effect  of  closely  co-ordinated  entertainment.  An 
over-assurance  or  cockiness  will  be  immediately  detected  by 
the  knowing  ears  of  the  listeners. 

Much  of  the  persiflage  that  sounds  so  brilliantly  spon- 
taneous on  the  Kraft  program  are  the  sentences  that  Carroll 
Carroll,  the  writer,  puts  into  the  mouth  of  Bing  Crosby. 
This  good-natured  banter  is  the  stuff  the  public  gloats  upon 
and  if  entrusted  to  another  might  sound  rather  terrible. 

Every  type  of  program  has  its  problems  and  situations. 
The  born  em  cee  easily  adapts  himself  to  the  spirit  of  the 
occasion.  Test  your  flexibility  as  an  em  cee  by  this  exercise. 
Assume  that  you  are  Milton  Cross.  You  have  just  been  as- 


signed  as  the  em  cee  of  two  children's  programs.  One  is  a 
nursery  rhymes  broadcast;  the  other  is  a  Sunday  morning's 
children's  hour.  Study  your  voice  manner  and  your  attitude 
in  your  approach  to  children  in  the  studio  with  full  regard 
to  the  listening  audience. 

Circumstances  alter  cases.  The  eyes  of  the  em  cee  must 
be  everywhere.  He  must  be  alert  while  the  program  is  going 
on,  make  allowances  for  "spread."  Spread  is  the  difference 
between  running  time  at  the  dress  rehearsal  and  the  actual 
running  time  on  the  air.  He  may  be  obliged  to  cut  his  pre- 
pared announcement  or  ad-lib  to  fill  in  the  extended 

Frank  Mclntyre,  who  succeeded  the  unctuous  Charles 
Winninger  as  Captain  Henry  of  the  Maxwell  House  Coffee 
Hour,  offered  this  test  for  quick  verbal  counter:  "One  may 
drop  a  script,  or  read  the  wrong  line.  Then  you'll  have  to 
cover  it  up.  The  script  may  have  been  corrected,  and  the 
new  page  thrown  away  instead  of  the  old  one.  In  fact,  this 
is  a  way  to  test  yourself  to  see  if  you  have  the  makings  of 
a  master  of  ceremonies." 

The  em  cee  who  is  also  a  leading  performer  on  a  variety 
program  requires  a  specialized  technique  that  cannot  be 
trifled  with.  He  must  be  magnetic  enough  to  dominate  a 
whole  show  and  yet  hold  himself  aloof  at  the  right  moment. 
He  must  be  exuberant  enough  to  capture  interest  and  hold 
the  interest  until  the  program  is  over.  With  the  authority  of 
an  honest  performer  he  keeps  the  stage  warm  and  glowing 
for  the  invisible  audience. 

"Ideally,"  says  Deems  Taylor  whom  we  must  quote  again, 
"the  perfect  radio  announcement  is  one  that  is  simple,  clear, 
brief,  amusing,  conversational  and  persuasive.  And  try  to 
write  it!"  But  Taylor  might  have  added,  "Try  and  speak  itl" 
for  the  perfect  radio  announcement  must  sound  as  if  it 
were  glibly  rolling  off  the  lips. 

The  latest  discovery  is  Clifton  Fadiman,  the  man  of  in- 

56  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

finite  jest,  who  propounds  weighty  questions  to  experts  on 
"Information  Please."  Recruited  from  the  book  critic  page 
of  the  New  Yorker  he  won  instant  acclaim  with  all  classes 
of  listeners.  Such  men  are  naturals  because  they  exhibit  cul- 
ture, refinement  and  agreeableness  without  obtrusive  sophis- 
tication. Since  its  inception  Fadiman  has  remained  the  in- 
terlocutor of  the  show. 

Fadiman's  gift  is  the  gift  of  voice  plus  intelligence,  wit 
and  a  communicating  sense  that  catches  the  audience.  He 
keeps  talking  about  twenty  minutes  of  the  thirty  minutes  of 
the  show,  propounding  a  series  of  trick  questions  to  several 
powerful  minds  whose  ignorant  responses  create  a  giggle  all 
over  the  country.  That  is  a  task  by  itself. 

A  program  like  "Information  Please,"  affords  the  chance 
for  spontaneous  skirmishes,  light,  quick,  cutting  comments 
and  flowery  phrases.  Consider  that  evening  on  which  John 
Gunther  knew  at  once  that  Riza  Pahlevi  was  Shah  of  Iran. 
Fadiman:  "Are  you  shah?"  Gunther:  "Sultanly." 


THE  first  radio  drama  was  produced  in  1922.  There  fol- 
lowed a  succession  of  broadcast  plays,  amateurish  and 
abortive.  Producers  projected  playlets  or  short  dramas  in  the 
regular  stage  manner  without  respect  to  the  limitations  of 
the  microphone.  Over  a  period  of  eighteen  years  experiments 
have  been  made  to  achieve  a  new  art  form. 

Broadcast  plays  today  may  be  classified  as  (i)  adaptations 
of  stories,  (2)  stage  and  screen  plays  and  (3)  scripts  written 
especially  for  the  air.  The  earlier  productions  were  almost 
exclusively  adaptations. 

Borrowing  a  leaf  from  film  playwrights,  the  radio  adaptors 
turned  to  established  writers  for  their  material.  They  con- 
structed air  dramas  out  of  episodes  taken  from  such  writers 
as  Conan  Doyle  and  Sax  Rohmer  and  fell  back  upon  the 
motion  picture  device  of  a  "dissolved"  in  the  form  of  a 
musical  cue  to  link  their  situations  together. 

Radio  laid  its  clumsy  hands  upon  the  work  of  playwrights 
for  inclusion  in  radio  variety  shows.  Louis  Reid  said  of  Rudy 
Vallee  that  it  took  only  fifteen  minutes  of  radio  boola  boola 
to  massacre  the  popular  dramas  of  the  stage.  Condensation 
consisted  of  lifting  some  little  scene  and  presenting  it  for 
fifteen  minutes  without  preliminary  action  and  characteriza- 
tion in  the  dialogue  upon  which  it  was  based.  It  has  been 
proved  conclusively  that  radio  cannot  do  justice  in  brief 
sketches  of  such  stage  plays  unholily  as  "Dodsworth,"  "Val- 
ley Forge,"  "Laburnum  Grove,"  and  "Farmer  Takes  A 
Wife."  The  results  were  theatrically  futile.  It  is  difficult  for 
the  listener  to  warm  up  an  imagination  when  a  fifteen  min- 
ute excerpt  is  flung  on  the  air.  An  hour  program  permitted 


58  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

the  adapter  to  include  practically  all  the  dialogue  and  scenes 
of  the  play. 

Established  authors  were  reluctant  to  enter  the  field  of 
radio  drama.  Octavus  Roy  Cohen  was  among  the  first  maga- 
zine names  to  compete  for  air  laurels.  A  few  distinguished 
writers,  intrigued  by  the  new  medium,  tried  out  their  in- 
ventiveness. Booth  Tarkington  wrote  a  radio  script  entitled 
"Maud  and  Cousin  Bill."  Tarkington  considered  radio  as  "a 
new  way  of  painting  pictures  in  the  mind  of  an  audience," 
and  that  is  what  the  playwright  and  the  novelist  try  to  do 
with  their  other  mediums. 

In  1934  radio  drama  became  the  new  vehicle  of  T.  S. 
Stribling,  whose  novel  "The  Store"  won  the  Pulitzer  Prize. 
He  approached  the  problem  with  curiosity.  The  result  was 
a  radio  series  known  as  "The  Conflict"  which  was  an  adapta- 
tion of  an  earlier  novel  of  his  dealing  with  the  struggle  of  the 
ship  lines.  Stribling  added  nothing  revolutionary  to  the 
radio  drama  form  but  recognized  the  necessity  for  serious 
study  of  the  problem.  He  left  the  field  with  a  solid  prophecy: 
"I  look  forward  to  the  time  when  radio  drama  will  run  for 
an  hour  or  two  hours,  letting  radio  develop  its  own  style  of 
radio  technique." 

The  dramatist  is  just  beginning  to  shake  off  his  indiffer- 
ence to  radio.  Today  many  a  well-known  literary  name  is 
found  appended  to  the  script  of  a  radio  drama.  Radio  has 
added  to  its  roster  such  names  as  Sherwood  Anderson,  Clif- 
ford Odets,  Irwin  Shaw,  Stephen  Vincent  Benet,  Norman 
Corwin,  Alfred  Kreymbourg,  and  Archibald  MacLeish. 

Writers  have  been  tempted  by  social  problems  of  the  day 
to  do  bits  of  propaganda  drama.  For  "The  Mobilization  for 
Human  Needs"  campaign  Fannie  Hurst  was  prompted  to 
write  for  the  networks  a  playlet  called  "Society's  Business." 
Irwin  Shaw,  in  1937,  wrote  a  drama  for  the  air  entitled 
"Supply  and  Demand,"  a  half-hour  production  over  the 


WABC  network.  The  play  ventured  into  biting  and  ironic 
commentary  on  the  food  situation  in  the  United  States. 

The  era  of  "pure"  radio  drama  begins  with  the  Columbia 
Workshop  in  1936,  under  the  direction  of  Irving  Reis.  This 
was  the  first  experimental  theater  of  the  air  which  guaran- 
teed writers  that  their  scripts  would  neither  be  revised  nor 
cut.  Reis  began  his  career  as  a  log  engineer,  but  soon  at- 
tracted attention  as  the  author  of  a  psychological  script 
called  "Split  Seconds."  An  earlier  work,  "St.  Louis  Blues," 
produced  in  1934,  was  a  forerunner  of  the  techniques  he 
employed  in  "Meridian  7-1212."  Reis  has  been  called  the 
apostle  of  drama  through  sound.  His  experiments  demon- 
strated that  the  microphone  could  convey  sound  effects  to 
build  up  drama  in  a  way  never  before  achieved. 

Sponsors  are  not  interested  in  experimental  drama.  They 
discovered  very  early  that  it  was  far  safer  to  use  tried  and 
tested  Broadway  shows  that  could  be  easily  adapted  for 
radio.  The  Lux  Radio  Theater,  from  its  eastern  stronghold 
in  New  York,  swooped  down  upon  the  hits  of  Broadway, 
placing  its  reliance  upon  the  lure  of  a  smashing  success  and 
only  upon  actors  who  had  the  highest  box  office  attraction, 
who  were  engaged  to  star  in  these  productions.  Attempts 
were  made  to  cast  the  radio  play  with  the  original  star,  and  as 
many  of  the  original  cast  as  it  was  possible  to  gather  together. 
Plays  were  cut  down  to  the  conventional  radio  formula  and 
adapted  to  the  one  hour  commercial  program.  Only  fine  act- 
ing saved  these  chopped-up  plays.  Walter  Huston  did  a 
memorable  bit  of  acting  as  Nifty  in  "The  Barker,"  Leslie 
Howard  set  a  high  standard  as  Peter  Standish  in  "Berkley 
Square,"  Paul  Muni  lost  none  of  his  vigor  in  "Counsellor- 
at-Law,"  and  Pauline  Lord  and  Walter  Connolly  were  just 
as  intense  as  in  their  stage  roles  in  "The  Late  Christopher 

To  a  larger  extent  than  any  other  country  England  has  de- 
veloped the  aesthetics  and  technique  of  radio  drama.  Writ- 

60  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

ers  of  the  stature  of  T.  S.  Elliot  and  James  Hilton  have 
written  several  experimental  dramas.  The  British  have  been 
on  the  search  for  a  new  art  form  and  were  the  first  to  con- 
clude that  stage  plays  are  not  radio  plays.  Early  in  1937,  NBC 
was  so  impressed  by  the  new  creative  methods  that  it  bought 
four  English  plays  for  radio  production. 

The  old  theory  that  radio  drama  was  bound  to  accept 
limitations  far  more  rigid  than  those  that  apply  to  the  stage 
and  screen  has  been  abandoned  by  the  English.  They  have 
achieved  success  in  comedy  and  in  historical  and  serious 
drama.  Poetic  plays  like  "Romeo  and  Juliet,"  romantic  plays 
like  "Hassan,"  epigrammatic  plays  like  "The  Importance 
of  Being  Earnest,"  character  plays  like  "Doctor  Abernathy 
— His  Book,"  biographical  plays  like  "Goodbye  Mr.  Chips," 
war  plays  like  "Journey's  End,"  sentimental  plays  like  "Ann 
and  Harold,"  all  have  proved  successful  on  the  air.  There 
is  seldom  a  common  factor  in  treatment  or  presentation, 
each  play  offering  special  problems. 

Radio  as  a  means  of  presenting  the  classic  dramatists  has 
made  a  decided  advance.  The  networks  began  to  consider 
the  classical  and  modern  dramatists.  In  1937,  the  Shakes- 
pearian cycle  marked  the  beginning  of  the  trend.  A  cycle  of 
Eugene  O'Neill  plays,  followed  by  George  Bernard  Shaw, 
indicates  the  agreement  of  distinguished  playwrights  to  lend 
their  plays  for  the  culture  and  understanding  of  vast  audi- 
ence groups  formerly  untouched  by  the  influence  of  the 
theater.  These  plays  are,  however,  at  their  best,  condensed 
versions.  A  play  is  cut  and  revised  on  the  Procrustean  bed 
to  get  it  within  radio's  time  limits. 

Can  Radio  Actors  Act? 

Radio  acting  demands  a  higher  degree  of  skill  and  art  than 
does  the  legitimate  stage.  The  radio  actor  is  beset  with 
special  difficulties  that  often  phase  the  most  capable  per- 


former.  In  the  studio,  chalk  lines  and  arrow  marks  around 
the  base  of  the  microphone  serve  as  a  guide  to  stance  and 
distance.  Seats  along  the  side  of  the  wall  are  occupied  by  the 
dramatic  cast.  Actors  stroll  to  their  assigned  microphone 
positions  only  when  their  lines  are  reached.  Such  conditions 
break  up  the  actor's  mental  approach  in  character  and 
mood.  On  the  stage  actors  have  learned  to  sustain  a  mood 
all  the  while  whether  speaking  or  not.  When  the  actor  re- 
sumes his  place  at  the  microphone  there  is  danger  that  his 
voice  may  sound  artificial  and  unrelated  to  what  has  been 
spoken  before.  Even  the  most  seasoned  actor  is  influenced 
by  lack  of  audience,  applause,  and  surroundings  of  the  legiti- 
mate stage.  He  must  submerge  himself  in  character  regard- 
less of  studio  "setting"  and  sound  effects. 

The  whistle  of  the  siren  and  the  clanking  of  chains  may 
throw  him  off  mood.  In  addition,  he  is  obliged  to  keep  his 
eyes  on  the  clock,  and  the  man  in  the  control  room.  There 
often  arises  in  the  mind  a  terrible  consciousness  that  he  is 
not  being  effective,  and  this  feeling  is  often  correct.  One 
listener  complained  to  the  New  York  Times  that  actors 
bring  about  strange  effects  on  the  air.  Weeping  to  him 
seemed  like  a  waterfall,  and  laughter  like  a  sound 
effect,  and  a  whisper  like  a  string  of  pauses  surrounded  by 
mumbling.  To  this  general  charge  it  might  be  said  that 
everything  depends  on  the  actor.  Some  actors  play  havoc 
with  any  emotion;  the  real  artist  achieves  results  in  voice 
that  are  unmistakable  reflections  of  the  mind  and  spirit. 

Nearly  every  important  actor  has  his  own  set  of  micro- 
phone mannerisms.  Many  of  them  go  through  the  same  pan- 
tomime and  gestures  before  the*  microphone  as  they  would 
on  the  theater  stage.  Gesture  before  the  microphone  helps  in 
overcoming  nervous  tensions  and  mike  consciousness.  Lillian 
Gish  in  an  O.  Henry  play  had  a  line  in  which  she  an- 
nounced: "Wait  'till  I  take  off  my  hat.  There!"  Her  long 

62  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

training  in  stage  realism  impelled  her  to  raise  her  arm  and 
yank  off  her  own  hat. 

If  the  script  of  Bambi  directs  Helen  Hayes  through  a  re- 
volving door  of  a  restaurant,  she  half  whirls  around  the 
mike.  She  carries  on  through  her  entire  program  with  ges- 
ture, facial  expression,  and  pantomime,  always  keeping  her 
eye  on  the  printed  page,  following  the  script  lest  she  lose  her 
lines  and  the  proper  cues. 

No  exact  formula  can  be  given  for  successful  acting  on  the 
air.  The  actor's  art  is  bound  up  with  his  personality  and  each 
part  that  he  plays  becomes  a  special  study  in  achievement. 
Stanislavski  in  his  work  "An  Actor  Prepares"  has  evoked 
a  psycho-technique  which  implies  an  excellently  trained 
physical,  mental  and  vocal  apparatus.  A  seasoned  radio  actor, 
Clyde  North,  once  advised:  "In  a  true  sense,  the  radio  actor 
projects  character  over  the  air  waves  as  he  does  over  the 
footlights.  When  he  transfers  his  training  from  the  foot- 
lights to  the  microphone  he  may  be  forgiven  for  those  first 
blunders  which  are  common  to  first  appearances." 

Certain  principles  of  acting  perhaps  can  be  gleaned  from 
the  reactions  of  actors  who  have  been  called  from  one  field 
to  the  other.  Paul  Muni,  when  called  to  do  the  lead  in 
"Counsellor-At-Law"  found  radio  a  serious  piece  of  business. 
"I  didn't  know  what  to  expect,"  he  confessed.  "When  I  first 
saw  the  script  and  noticed  how  much  of  the  original  had 
been  left  out  I  was  apprehensive  as  to  the  final  result.  All 
the  nuances  and  all  the  embellishments  that  I  had  known 
on  the  stage  were  absent.  I  suddenly  realized  that  there 
would  be  no  facial  expressions,  no  gestures,  to  lend  it  reality. 
But  I  soon  got  into  the  swing  of  it,  thanks  to  the  help  of 
everyone  who  had  a  hand  in  the  broadcast.  It  is  just  a  matter 
of  submerging  one's  self  in  the  material  and  remembering 
nothing  else  while  acting." 

Dialogue  must  have  an  intimate  and  conversational  touch, 
if  it  is  to  sound  honest.  The  radio  actor  must  convey  to 


listeners  the  illusion  that  they  are  eavesdropping  upon  a 
scene  right  out  of  life.  This  thought  was  summed  up  by 
Walter  Huston  when  he  said:  "You  can  read  a  line  one  way 
and  it  will  be  honest.  You  can  read  it  another  way  and  it'll 
be  a  lie.  You've  got  to  be  honest."  The  successful  actor 
always  gives  the  impression  that  he  hasn't  quite  learned  his 
part,  and  is  ad-libbing  as  he  goes  along.  Heywood  Broun 
called  this  faculty  "the  illusion  of  the  theater." 

Radio  acting  commands  a  quick,  alert,  and  flexible  men- 
tality, together  with  those  physical  gifts  of  voice  which  can 
interpret  character  in  any  situation.  Character  is  made 
plausible  if  the  actor  thinks,  feels,  and  strives  in  unison  with 
his  role.  This  requires  talent  and  technique. 

Timing  and  cuing  are  vital.  The  smallest  details  become 
significant;  the  difference  in  two  or  three  seconds  in  the 
length  of  a  pause,  a  slight  change  of  tempo,  a  highly  nervous 
pace,  a  lagging  or  let-down,  anything  unnatural  in  expres- 
sion may  mar  a  scene. 

Radio  broadcasting  stations  are  still  crowded  with  the 
amateurs  who  have  had  no  opportunity  for  professional 
growth  or  experience.  For  this  reason  George  Abbott,  the 
producer,  holds  that  it  is  best  for  the  networks  to  cling  to 
the  old  saying  that  "the  worst  professional  is  better  than  the 
best  amateur." 

The  trained  actor  brings  a  power  of  interpretation  that 
is  totally  lacking  even  in  the  best  radio  reader  of  scripts. 
Courtney  Savage,  former  CBS  director  of  plays,  found  that 
"in  the  creation  of  new  roles,  the  actor  with  stage  experience 
far  excels  the  person  without  legitimate  training.  Actors  of 
the  legitimate  stage  slip  into  microphone  technique  with  in- 
digenous ease.  The  rising  stars  of  the  air  waves  attack  their 
programs  with  their  individual  personalities  centered  solely 
in  their  vocal  chords." 

There  still  persists  an  "elocutionary"  school  of  acting 
which  the  microphone  has  especially  fostered.  Walter  Win- 

64  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

chell  urged  that  Katharine  Cornell  quit  trying  to  sound  like 
a  diction  tutor.  George  Jean  Nathan  calls  attention  to  the 
great  difference  between  exact  pronunciation  and  enuncia- 
tion and  obviously  painstaking  exact  pronunciation  and 
enunciation.  "The  former  is  of  course  to  be  demanded," 
says  Nathan.  But  the  latter  with  its  air  of  a  student  proudly 
and  self  consciously  reciting  a  heavily  learned  lesson,  will 
destroy  the  naturalness,  ease  and  effect  of  any  performance, 
however  otherwise  good.  It  is  better,  so  far  as  the  audience 
goes,  to  mispronounce  and  even  badly  articulate  a  difficult 
word  than  to  speak  it  like  a  diction  teacher  giving  a  lesson 
in  facial  and  dental  calisthenics. 

In  June,  1938,  Orson  Welles  said  before  the  National 
Council  of  Teachers  of  English:  "The  Mercury  Troup  has 
concentrated  on  delivering  lines  with  as  much  clarity  and 
as  authentic  inflection  as  possible.  Emphasis  has  been  placed 
on  infusing  the  language  with  as  much  beauty  as  the  actress 
can  lend  through  voice  and  expression.  Language  never 
lives  until  it  is  spoken  aloud." 

Shall  Parts  Be  Memorized? 

Television  may  put  an  end  to  the  reading  of  lines  from 
a  script.  Actors  will  be  forced  to  memorize  their  parts  and 
carry  on  as  on  the  stage.  There  are  many  old-timers  like 
Jane  Cowl  who  wish  radio  would  permit  them  to  memorize, 
but  the  microphone  has  no  time  for  such  proceedings. 
Why  memorize  for  a  single  performance?  Reading  from 
the  script  has  the  virtue  of  saving  the  energy  of  actors 
and  cutting  down  the  time  of  rehearsals.  Radio  actors  do  not 
take  seriously  the  announcement  by  the  networks  that  they 
must  memorize  their  lines,  since  such  a  rule,  if  enforced, 
would  require  greatly  increased  salaries. 

Maude  Adams  spoke  her  lines  from  memory,  just  as  she 
did  in  the  theater.  There  are  few  actresses  so  ably  prepared. 


It  is  notable,  however,  that  NBC  tried  to  preserve  the  short 
dramatic  phrasing  of  Maxwell  Anderson's  "Second  Over- 
ture" by  insisting  that  the  actors  memorize  their  lines  so 
that  they  were  allowed  complete  freedom  of  gesture  while 
their  speeches  were  picked  up  by  microphones  suspended 
over  their  heads. 

The  custom  of  reading  scripts  brings  with  it  the  usual 
results  of  unintelligent  reading.  Somehow,  when  actors  read 
from  scripts,  the  effect  becomes  mechanical  or  too  strenuous. 
Reading  requires  a  full  dimensional  immersion  in  charac- 
ter. The  capable  radio  performer  with  script  in  hand  rarely 
gives  any  suspicion  that  he  is  reading  from  a  script.  Acting 
has  been  termed  nothing  more  than  re-acting.  In  reading  a 
script,  the  actor  never  abandons  the  conversational  contact 
which  is  the  secret  of  realism. 

Many  careless  directors  permit  their  casts  to  fit  their  lines 
together  rather  than  to  fit  their  expression  into  the  scheme 
of  the  action  so  that  these  actors  do  not  really  talk  or  listen 
to  each  other,  but  merely  read  to  one  another.  Listeners  be- 
come aware  that  there  is  no  contact  between  the  mind  of  one 
actor  and  the  mind  of  the  other.  To  avoid  these  mechanical 
impressions  requires  constant  practice  in  ear-training,  so  that 
the  actor  can  give  the  listener  the  illusion  of  honest-to-good- 
ness  dialogue. 

A  trained  actress  can  adapt  herself  to  her  role  under  spe- 
cial stress.  Helen  Hayes  was  called  to  the  microphone  to  take 
the  part  of  Margaret  Sullavan  in  the  leading  role  of  "Peg 
of  My  Heart."  She  had  never  played  that  part  before  and 
went  on  the  air  without  the  benefit  of  any  rehearsal  and 
only  one  script  reading.  "Frankly  I  was  never  so  frightened 
over  a  performance  before,"  she  said.  "Please  realize  that 
for  my  previous  radio  theater  role  in  'What  Every  Woman 
Knows/  I  had  six  days  and  sixteen  solid  hours  of  rehearsal." 

William  S.  Gillette  was  a  master  of  naturalness  in  acting. 
He  always  gave  the  impression  that  he  had  not  quite  learned 

66  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

his  part,  ad-libbing  as  he  went  along.  This  is  what  is  called 
"the  illusion  of  a  first  performance." 

The  test  of  naturalness  lies  in  timing  and  the  use  of 
rhythms,  inflections  which  strike  the  listener  as  "sincere." 
It  is  the  natural  reaction  of  the  stage  actor  to  protest  against 
reading  from  a  script.  When  Ina  Claire  appeared  in  three 
plays  over  NBC  in  1937,  she  complained  about  the  difficul- 
ties of  translating  her  art  from  the  spoken  stage  to  radio 
without  benefit  of  memorizing:  "It  is  so  difficult  reading 
from  a  sheet  of  paper.  I  can't  see  why  radio  casts  are  not  re- 
hearsed as  we  rehearse  in  the  theater.  They  could  give  a 
better  performance." 

Janet  Gaynor,  who  made  her  debut  on  the  microphone  in 
the  same  year  in  a  radio  adaptation  of  "A  Star  is  Born," 
suggested,  like  most  air  novices,  that  she  memorize  her  part 
instead  of  reading  from  the  script.  This  suggestion  is  gen- 
erally vetoed  by  the  director.  Players  who  have  memorized 
lines  become  confused  when  necessary  last-minute  cuts  are 
made.  In  addition  there  is  the  danger  of  a  fumbled  line, 
which  while  forgivable  on  the  stage  is  fatal  on  the  air. 

Voice  of  the  Radio  Actor 

The  loud  speaker  does  terrible  things  to  the  actor's  voice. 
Even  the  most  distinguished  stars,  who  are  the  best  examples 
of  traditional  acting,  have  failed  dismally  on  the  air.  Often 
a  false  theatricalism  creeps  into  the  voice.  The  touch  of  un- 
naturalness  is  immediately  detected  by  the  listener  when  the 
actor  seems  to  struggle  to  achieve  unusual  tonalities.  Ethel 
Barrymore  found  it  difficult  to  adapt  her  stage  technique  to 
radio.  Her  throaty  attempt  at  over-emotionalism  had  much 
of  the  effect  of  the  elocutionary  art. 

Sometimes  an  artist  tries  too  hard  to  put  every  nuance 
into  boldest  emphasis.  Mary  Pickford's  over-explicit  empha- 
sis succeeded  in  turning  comedy  into  farce.  Tallulah  Bank- 


head,  a  personality  in  the  theater  and  on  the  screen,  brought 
to  radio  a  voice  that  was  regarded  as  hard,  unfeminine,  and 
lacking  in  the  finer  shades  of  interpretation. 

Many  air  failures  arise  from  miscasting  radio  plays.  The 
actor  is  lost  in  a  leading  role  unsuited  to  his  type.  Mary 
Pickford's  attempt  in  "Coquette"  proved  that  heavy  acting 
was  unsuited  to  her.  The  seduction-murder  theme  was  too 
much  for  her  artistry  and  unsuited  to  her  type.  Her  first 
offering,  "The  Church  Mouse,"  was  a  sentimental  comedy 
more  agreeable  to  her  manner,  but  her  voice  was  undis- 
tinguished and  critics  commented  on  the  slight  fuzz  in  her 
enunciation,  something  just  this  side  of  a  lisp. 

The  microphone  holds  no  guarantee  for  the  revival  of  the 
reputation  of  an  actress  whose  name  was  spoken  in  hushed 
whispers  as  a  genius  of  the  spoken  stage.  Maude  Adams 
strove  to  weave  the  veil  of  enchantment  that  she  had  so  suc- 
cessfully created  on  the  spoken  stage  over  the  air.  Something 
about  "Peter  Pan,"  however,  could  not  be  successfully  trans- 
lated in  sound,  and  the  fantasy  of  the  play  did  not  get  across. 
One  critic  called  "Peter  Pan"  on  the  air  tragically  unsuccess- 
ful and  although  Maude  Adams  achieved  something  of  the 
elfin  whimsy,  refined  and  genteel  atmosphere,  her  efforts 
were  not  impressive,  and  after  eight  weeks  on  the  air,  her 
sponsors  did  not  renew  her  contract.  One  likened  her  read- 
ing of  "The  Kingdom  of  God"  to  the  vocal  hullabaloo  at  the 
Grand  Central  Station  in  New  York  just  before  the  Yale- 
Harvard  Special  pulls  out. 

Lionel  Barrymore,  radio's  leading  impersonator  of  old 
men,  has  escaped  from  a  stilted,  artificial,  and  exaggerated 
style  in  delivery.  For  a  more  flexible  and  more  interpreta- 
tive rendering,  he  advises:  "We  can't  deliver  a  one-tone 
monologue  on  the  air.  No  matter  how  dramatic  the  material, 
a  pulse  that  is  hammered  too  hard,  even  with  drama,  finally 
becomes  impervious.  Even  horror  loses  its  blood-curdling 

68  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

power  if  it  is  overdone.  We  have,  therefore,  to  assimilate  all 
of  our  being,  all  of  our  lights  and  shades  into  the  voice." 

In  spite  of  the  best  intentions  of  Orson  Welles,  his  im- 
personations became  too  dramatic  and  noisy.  A  certain  pom- 
posity in  his  actors  created  the  feeling  that  they  were  trying 
to  be  arty. 

In  spite  of  all  the  ballyhoo  accompanying  the  production 
of  Shakespeare  and  Shaw,  there  has  been  little  change  in 
the  average  run  of  plays  on  the  air.  The  work  of  these  play- 
wrights is  born  of  the  theater  and  not  the  radio.  The  next 
stage  of  development  in  radio  drama  is  the  creation  of  a 
repertory  written  especially  for  radio  plus  television  require- 
ments to  come.  The  poetic  drama  has  taken  on  a  new  stimu- 
lus through  broadcasting.  That  trio  of  poetic  experimentists, 
Maxwell  Anderson,  Archibald  MacLeish,  and  Alfred  Kreym- 
bourg,  have  added  much  to  the  stability  and  maturity  of  the 
microphone  plays. 

Many  programs  still  deal  with  excerpts  from  the  current 
successes.  This  vogue  was  introduced  by  both  Rudy  Vallee 
and  Kate  Smith,  who  included  scenes  from  play  hits  as 
features  of  their  Variety  Programs.  When  all  the  excitement 
of  the  presentation  of  some  important  plays  is  past,  the  net- 
works go  back  to  the  same  dramatic  and  comedy  pattern  as 
they  had  before.  Trivial  serials  seriously  hinder  the  appre- 
ciation of  finer  things  in  radio  drama.  Script  shows  like 
"Pepper's  Own  Family,"  "Big  Sister,"  "Betty  and  Bob,"  are 
far  more  popular  than  Shakespeare  and  Shaw. 

The  experimental  theater  has  diagnosed  most  of  the  ills 
of  radio.  It  is  now  up  to  the  playwrights  to  apply  their 
remedies.  Radio  drama  will  suffer  from  pernicious  anemia 
as  long  as  it  continues  to  offer  a  surplusage  of  serials. 

The  performance  of  Drinkwater's  "Abraham  Lincoln," 
displayed  Orson  Welles  as  a  Lincoln  who  had  a  deep-sea- 
going voice  that  was  trying  to  rival  a  fog-horn.  The  true 
humility  of  the  Emancipator  was  missing  in  voice.  The 


danger  in  such  characterizations  is  that  the  narrator,  who  is 
also  the  protagonist  in  the  narrative,  misses  true  characteri- 
zation. It  is  as  if  a  man  were  in  love  with  his  own  voice  and 
did  not  care  to  change  it  when  stepping  into  character. 

Barrymore  made  the  mistake  of  trying  to  double  as  the 
ghost  in  "Hamlet."  As  a  result  Hamlet  sounded  like  the 
ghost,  and  the  ghost  sounded  like  Hamlet.  Doubling  in  radio 
is  a  stunt  even  for  the  best  actor.  Jimmy  Scribner  as  the  full 
cast  of  "The  Johnson  Family"  enacted  thirty-two  characters, 
but  not  without  strained  and  curious  voice  effects. 

To  fit  into  the  picture  the  actor  must  give  diligent  atten- 
tion to  his  spoken  lines  through  careful  rehearsal.  Even  more 
care  is  necessary  for  microphone  delivery  than  for  the  spoken 
stage.  Leslie  Howard,  on  his  own  admission,  was  a  total  fail- 
ure in  "The  Minute"  on  the  Vallee  Hour  because  he  ap- 
peared without  rehearsal.  His  rendition,  indeed,  was  just 
a  bit  of  unadulterated  elocution.  Some  stars  believed  that 
rehearsing  before  the  microphone  was  just  a  lot  of  fuss,  but 
experience  soon  convinced  them  that  the  microphone  is  the 
most  unerring  instrument  for  determining  their  humanity 
in  acting. 

Today  the  actor  does  not  have  to  worry  about  his  personal 
appearance  when  he  comes  before  the  mike.  Burns  Mantle, 
with  brilliant  irony,  bespeaks  the  opportunity  which  Shakes- 
pearean revivals  offer  to  players  who  can  triumph  by  virtue 
of  their  voices  alone:  "A  Falstaff  who  doesn't  have  to  wrestle 
with  a  stomach  pad  to  look  the  part  of  the  barrel-shaped 
knight!  A  Rosalind  who  does  not  even  have  to  be  shapely! 
A  Kate  Smith,  given  the  voice  and  feeling,  could  read  Juliet 
as  confidently  as  a  Cornell  or  a  Cowl.  An  angular  ZaSu  Pitts 
or  a  Flora  Finch  could  do  as  nicely  as  Rosalind,  other  talents 
being  equal,  as  an  Ada  Rehan,  or  even  a  Marlene  Dietrich." 

A  monologuist  like  Ruth  Draper  represents  the  acme  of 
radio  ability.  In  her  repertory  there  are  thirty-five  mono- 
logues. Each  calls  for  the  delineation  of  a  distinct  character, 

70  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

and  each  one  is  different  from  the  rest.  This  means  that  she 
has  to  adapt  herself  to  thirty-five  speech  personalities;  her 
rhythm,  inflection,  and  general  quality  of  voice  must  vary 
with  each  impersonation.  It  represents  the  highest  degree  of 
adaptation  of  the  human  voice.  If  the  purpose  of  monologue 
is  to  make  subacid  but  still  polite  comment  on  superficial 
manners,  Ruth  Draper  heads  the  field.  She  has  no  rival.  Her 
variety  of  tone,  her  technical  control,  her  tactful  lightness 
of  touch  adroitly  suggest  to  the  audience  that  even  a  scorpion 
may  be  tamed  as  a  drawing-room  pet. 

Writing  for  Radio 

A  new  deal  seems  to  be  in  the  offing  for  the  radio  writer. 
For  nearly  twenty  years,  with  few  exceptions,  he  was  for- 
gotten in  the  fanfare  of  the  programs  he  helped  to  create. 
Names  of  announcers,  bandsmen,  transient  Hollywood  stars, 
and  other  supernumeraries  were  exploited  continuously  over 
the  air  while  the  men  and  women  who  pounded  out  all  the 
sketches,  playlets,  skits  and  dramas  were  left  to  toil  in  com- 
plete obscurity.  The  status  of  the  writer  was  not  that  of  a 
literary  creator,  but  of  an  anonymous  producer  of  advertis- 
ing copy. 

With  the  entrance  of  recognized  authors  into  the  field  of 
radio,  and  with  the  growing  development  of  specialized 
writing  technique,  the  radio  "by-line"  will  become  an  actu- 
ality not  only  as  a  deserving  accolade  to  the  radio  author,  but 
also  as  a  direct  encouragement  to  better  efforts. 

The  time  still  is  when  radio  plays  are  dashed  off  m  a  day 
or  two.  In  some  instances  it  is  reported  that  the  copy  has 
been  furnished  hot  from  the  office  pen  while  the  actors  are 
still  standing  before  the  microphone.  How  is  it  possible 
for  an  author  to  provide  dialogue  while  on  the  run?  Walter 
Huston,  who  appeared  in  the  radio  performance  of  "The 
Barker,"  claims  that  the  power  of  the  production  lay  in  its 


perfected  dialogue  since  the  author  had  spent  a  year  perfect- 
ing the  play,  traveling  with  a  carnival  and  learning  every 
quirk  of  the  traveling  tent.  "The  radio  drama  penned  in  a 
few  days,"  he  says,  "fails  to  paint  the  picture.  The  imagina- 
tion doesn't  have  a  chance  to  work,"  and  Elsie  Ferguson  pro- 
tested "It  is  a  shame  that  actors  are  held  back  by  dialogues 
that  are  thrilling  as  a  timetable."  The  author,  then,  should 
give  close  attention  to  dialogue  that  rings  true  and  is  very 

No  amount  of  technical  ingenuity  can  save  a  poorly  writ- 
ten script,  or  the  telescoped  continuities  that  ignore  charac- 
ter and  hurry  the  action  with  almost  unbelievable  speed. 
The  construction  of  a  radio  play  demands  an  intimate 
knowledge  of  the  author's  chosen  materials,  and  a  careful 
selection  from  them.  They  aim  to  bring  about  a  special 
friendliness  or  a  temperamental  kinship  with  the  characters, 
as  they  are  shown  by  their  speech.  In  some  way  the  drama 
brings  a  mental  picture  before  the  listener  and  words  become 
translated  into  feelings  and  emotions.  If  the  author  does  not 
provide  the  actor  with  dialogue  that  has  this  quality,  a  radio 
play  cannot  hope  to  be  more  than  a  dull  affair  in  reading. 

Tradition  has  grown  up  that  radio  drama  demands  mys- 
terious techniques  which  are  beyond  the  average  writer. 
It  is  true  that  certain  tricks  of  method  have  been  applied  to 
this  art,  but  radio  need  not  frighten  away  the  playwright. 
The  field  is  open  to  experiment.  The  principles  of  radio 
drama  have  remained  the  same  from  the  very  beginning. 
Radio  merely  takes  these  fundamental  techniques  and  ap- 
plies them  in  a  way  different  from  stage  or  screen  technique 
in  which  the  physical  element  played  a  most  important  part. 

The  veteran  Owen  Davis,  author  of  over  one  hundred 
stage  plays,  and  creator  of  the  radio  "Gibson  Family,"  be- 
came a  radio  recruit  without  fear  or  trembling.  "Radio," 
he  advises,  "is  neither  more  difficult  nor  easy  than  writing 
a  stage  play.  It  all  simmers  down  to  what  you  say  and  how 

72  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

you  say  it.  Radio  has  the  same  problems  as  Hollywood.  There 
is  no  established  formula  for  writing  plays  for  stage  and 
screen.  There  is  none  for  radio.  It  is  merely  a  question  of 
knowing  how  to  perform  certain  tricks." 

The  old  screen  melodramas  of  1900  involved  techniques 
peculiar  to  the  silent  screen.  The  writer  of  continuity  for  the 
silent  film  sought  to  make  the  audience  "hear"  by  sight. 
The  problem  of  the  radio  dramatist  is  to  stimulate  the 
listener  to  "see"  by  sound.  Film  playwrights  clung  to  plots 
which  emphasized  action,  such  as  "The  Wild  Chase,"  "Rex," 
or  "Burning  Houses."  When  the  talkies  were  introduced,  the 
screen  began  to  call  for  plays  of  character  and  situation 
rather  than  those  of  mere  physical  movement.  In  the  same 
way,  action  and  physical  motion  have  been  overemphasized 
in  radio,  while  plays  involving  character  development  and 
emotional  tendencies  have  been  neglected.  Many  authors  be- 
lieve that  the  most  unconvincing  thing  on  the  air  is  violence, 
such  as  gun  shots  or  fights,  on  which  the  success  of  the  old 
melodramas  depended.  The  deeper  feelings  such  as  tender- 
ness and  affection,  are  more  easily  visualized  than  those 
climaxes  depending  upon  sound  effects.  Effective  dialogue 
paints  a  better  mental  picture  than  violent  sounds.  The 
whole  business  of  radio  drama  technique  is  not  elusive,  but 
remains,  first  and  last, — theater.  The  technique  of  radio 
script  writing,  radio  drama  writing,  is  done  by  simple  rules, 
but  they  require  a  deep  understanding  of  human  nature  and 
what  is  appealing  to  the  average  man  and  woman. 

A  situation  or  a  character  is  more  easily  visualized  when 
the  listener  is  touched  by  the  deeper  emotions, — monologue, 
self-sacrifice,  jealousy.  The  imagination  plays  the  most  suc- 
cessful part  in  any  broadcast.  De  Mille  calls  the  proper  use 
of  dialogue  the  fertilization  of  the  imagination. 

Radio  plays,  like  the  movies,  sought  their  success  by  ad- 
hering to  their  "young  boy  meets  girl"  formula.  At  their 
best,  they  remain  glorified  stories  of  "hot"  writing.  It  is  for 


such  a  reason  that  Arch  Oboler,  sickened  by  the  mechanical 
production  of  his  sketches  for  Irene  Rich's  show  for  nearly 
two  years,  finally  resigned. 

Special  Problems 

Early  radio  dramatists  were  faced  with  the  problems  of  in- 
dicating a  division  between  scenes.  The  three  methods  of 
bridging  in  use  today  are  (i)  the  use  of  sound  effects  which 
give  the  listener  a  notion  of  change  of  scene  through  syn- 
chronized sounds;  (2)  the  method  of  the  commentator  who 
lays  the  scene;  (3)  the  narrator  who  is,  in  effect,  something 
of  the  Greek  chorus;  (4)  musical  bridge  which  employs 
background  music  appropriate  to  the  action. 

The  musical  curtain,  now  employed  practically  univers- 
ally is  attributed  to  Dana  Noyes  and  Howard  Barlow, 
formerly  Columbia's  musical  director.  Noyes  and  Barlow 
introduced  a  brief  musical  interlude  between  scenes  in  "The 
True  Story"  broadcast  to  indicate  the  passing  of  time  and 
the  change  of  setting.  Variations  of  this  device  are  to  be 
found  in  the  Eno  Crime  Club  Series,  where  a  gong  is  slowly 
struck  three  times  between  each  scene. 

The  modern  playwright  has  the  advantage  over  the  Eliza- 
bethan dramatist.  The  theater-goer  today  is  provided  with 
a  program  which  tells  him  of  the  changes  of  scene  and  of 
the  passage  of  time  and  of  anything  else  which  the  play- 
wright regards  necessary  for  him  to  know.  Elizabethans  had 
no  programs.  Radio  drama  can  take  lessons  in  technique 
from  the  technique  in  transition  out  of  Shakespeare.  Shakes- 
peare used  devices  for  conveying  information  about  lapses 
of  time  and  shifts  in  locality  by  means  of  dialogue.  In  the 
same  manner  dialogue  serves  to  identify  characters,  antici- 
pate or  recapitulate  events  in  order  to  make  the  action  clear, 
stress  the  significant,  show  the  responsiveness  of  other  charac- 
ters in  the  play,  one  to  the  other,  bring  in  testimony  and 

74  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

messages  of  ghosts,  and  provide  the  narrator  with  the  func- 
tion  of  chorus  prologue  and  epilogue. 

The  radio  playwright  should  be  guided  by  certain  prin- 
ciples which  experience  has  proved: 

1.  Writing  for  the  masses  requires  a  theme  which  will 
strike  the  widest  appeal.  An  author  must  express  himself  in 
terms  which  will  be  understandable  by  the  greatest  possible 
number  of  listeners.  In  theme  and  in  treatment,  therefore, 
he  will  aim  to  touch  what  is  immediately  satisfying  to  the 
mass  mind.  Specialized  treatment  of  plays  as  found  in  the 
experimental  drama  cannot  hope  to  reach  the  minimum 
audience  of  approximately  two  million  people  listening  in 
constantly.  A  play  that  attracts  only  one  hundred  thousand 
reaches  out  for  only  one-twentieth  of  its  potential  audience. 

2.  The  most  complicated  problem  of  writing  radio  drama 
is  that  of  identification.  The  legitimate  stage  employs  light- 
ing and  scenic  effects  which  impress  the  audience  through 
the  eye.  The  radio  dramatist  relies  solely  on  visual  images 
created  solely  by  the  dialogue  spoken  by  the  actors  and  the 
sound  effects  made  to  order  by  the  technicians.  Hence,  the 
radio  dramatist  should  deal  in  images  which  are  easily  recog- 
nized. The  author  indulges  in  swift,  quick  characterization 
and  can  fasten  this  characterization  on  the  listener  by  the 
selection  of  simple  characters  and  situations.  The  first  five 
minutes  of  a  radio  drama  are  regarded  as  vital.  It  is  generally 
considered  that  if  an  audience  cannot  picture  a  character 
and  catch  the  drift  of  the  action  within  these  five  minutes  a 
radio  play  will  drag  along  in  a  muddled  and  confused  way. 

3.  Irving  Reis  calls  attention  to  the  "here-comes-so-and- 
so"  school  of  exposition,  which  should  be  avoided.  He  warns, 
"It  is  dull  and  sloppy  to  establish  a  character  in  this  obvious 
fashion.  The  writer  must  be  inventive  and  devise  in  his 
scripts  fresh  and  arresting  methods  of  starting  off  the  charac- 
ter's locale  and  plots." 

4.  Experiments  prove  that  a  writer  may  use  as  many  char- 


acters  as  he  likes  in  a  radio  drama.  The  important  principle 
is  never  to  have  more  than  three  characters  bear  the  brunt 
of  any  scene.  Listeners  can  hold  only  so  much  at  one  time. 
Voice  is  the  only  guide  by  which  the  audience  can  see  a  char- 
acter, and  if  that  particular  voice  comes  into  the  scene  in- 
frequently, it  places  a  strain  on  the  listener  to  identify  it. 
Many  plays  are  ruined  by  a  babble  of  voices,  none  of  which 
is  fastened  to  a  particular  personality. 

A  character  may  be  perfectly  clear  to  the  writer  and  yet 
be  perfectly  obscure  to  the  listener.  Dialect  helps  establish 
a  character.  It  is  by  this  element  of  the  voice  that  the  radio 
dramatist  must  rely  upon  the  actor,  but  he  must  provide  him 
with  that  mental  stuff  which  can  engender  the  highest  form 
of  expression  and  interpretation.  John  Erskine  evaluates 
voice  in  the  radio  drama  thus:  "One  loves  voices,  voices  that 
convey  the  suggestion  of  pleasant  personalities — voices  full 
of  character,  that  bespeak  a  whole  page  of  description." 

The  author  must  spend  some  time  in  justifying  and  ex- 
plaining his  characters  before  they  seem  real  to  the  radio 
audience.  Put  yourself  in  the  listener's  place,  and  see  what 
sort  of  reaction  your  character  creates.  After  that,  the  story 
can  begin  to  move.  Epithets,  voices  tender  and  ennobling, 
voices  that  stand  apart  by  intense  contrast  from  the  gruff, 
mean,  savage  and  violent  speech  of  the  villains, — voices 
clashing  in  battle  or  intertwined  in  love. 


Not  any  one  can  write  radio  drama.  Even  the  established 
writer  must  give  ear  to  the  radio  and  use  his  critical  faculty 
in  analyzing  serials,  one-act  plays  comedies  and  dramas  from 
the  standpoint  of  sound.  The  beginner  in  this  field  will 
profit  by  a  good  course  in  narrative  and  dramatic  techniques 
which  are  fundamental  to  plot  construction.  The  crux  of 
the  whole  question  of  successful  radio  writing  lies  in  the 

76  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

ability  of  the  writer  to  think  in  terms  of  sound.  George  P. 
Ludlam,  continuity  writer  for  NBC  advised:  "The  best  place 
to  learn  how  to  write  is  beside  a  radio  set.  The  playwright 
who  keeps  that  in  mind  is  in  little  danger  of  going  wrong." 
Transitions,  effects,  climaxes  all  depend  on  sound.  If  the 
writer  can  hear  his  show  in  his  mind  and  is  satisfied  with  it, 
the  chances  are  that  he  has  something  worth  while.  It  does 
not  matter  how  dialogue  looks  in  print,  it's  the  sound  that 
counts.  A  few  bars  of  thematic  music  transport  the  listener 
through  time  and  space  in  a  second  or  two.  A  few  bars  of 
thematic  music  span  the  centuries  or  transport  the  listener 
into  another  world.  The  writer  takes  advantage  of  the  swift 
and  sweeping  transitions  in  time  and  place  that  radio  affords. 
It  is  a  matter  of  training  to  establish  for  the  listener,  the 
time,  the  place  and  the  characters.  George  P.  Ludlam  also 
offers  this  injunction:  "The  listener  must  never  for  a  mo- 
ment be  left  in  doubt  as  to  the  scene  of  the  action  or  the 
identity  of  the  characters  engaged  in  conversation."  Although 
this  takes  deft  writing,  it's  quite  simple  when  one  under- 
stands the  requisites. 


Instead  of  an  art,  the  work  of  adaptation  was  regarded  as 
an  unimportant  hack  job.  The  work  truly  calls  for  the  best 
skills  of  the  trained  playwright  and  an  intimate  understand- 
ing of  the  reaction  of  the  listening  audience  to  characteriza- 
tion and  dialogue.  The  adaptor  has  a  special  task  of  reducing 
the  short  story  or  novel  to  its  elements  and  then  analyzing 
and  reassembling  its  separate  parts.  He  has  the  special  prob- 
lem of  keeping  the  tone  of  the  play  consistent  with  the 
original  story  and  at  the  same  time  so  construct  his  dialogue 
as  to  convey  the  impression  of  real  people. 

Some  critics  regard  the  adaptation  of  a  play  to  radio  as  a 
trick  in  method  rather  than  as  an  art.  Condensing  requires 


the  nicety  of  a  surgeon  who  can  extract  a  heart  from  the 
drama  without  destroying  its  unity.  There  are  several  prin- 
ciples in  adapting  that  are  almost  uniformly  practiced:  (i) 
The  radio  script  is  shorter  than  the  average  stage  script  and 
is  comparable  to  the  one-act  play;  (2)  Radio  will  permit  un- 
limited flexibility  in  play  form  since  it  places  no  limitation 
on  the  length  and  number  of  scenes.  It  can  enlarge  on  or 
compress  any  situation  and  the  scene  can  be  disposed  of  in 
a  few  lines  of  script.  Change  of  time  and  place  become  al- 
most instantaneous;  (3)  The  most  popular  adaptations  are 
those  of  stories  or  plays  depending  mainly  on  plot  and  action. 
Plays  which  depend  upon  sophistication  of  dialogue  offer 
special  difficulty  in  adaptation.  It  is  easier  to  handle  frank 
melodramas  whose  guiding  motto  is  "Twelve  minutes  and 
a  scream";  (4)  The  adaptor  must  turn  the  very  limitations 
of  the  microphone  to  good  advantage.  To  this  end  the  adap- 
tor should  be  familiar  with  the  unusual  effects  in  voice  that 
give  the  illusion  of  reality. 

Many  presentations  have  been  ruined  by  the  extreme  com- 
pression of  plays  within  a  period  of  thirty  minutes.  A  two- 
hour  play  cannot  be  cut  successfully  to  twenty-five  minutes 
and  still  retain  the  flavor  of  the  original.  The  high  tempo 
and  rapid  fire  dialogue  common  to  most  adaptations  only 
succeed  in  emasculating  the  originals. 

The  adaptor  has  the  task  of  switching  scenes,  cutting  and 
pruning  the  lines,  making  changes  in  the  action  to  employ 
proper  sound  effects  and  create  the  illusion  of  time  and 
place.  The  principle  followed  in  cutting  is  to  highlight  the 
main  theme  and  gloss  over  the  improbable  and  probable 
sub-plots.  Burns  Mantle  criticized  the  Shakespearean  stream- 
line performances  as  being  not  even  directly  or  remotely 
compared  to  the  stage  plays.  "But,"  he  adds,  "they  were  cer- 
tainly a  great  deal  more  than  platform  reading/' 

Max  Wyle,  continuity  editor  of  CBS,  in  his  lectures  on 
radio  writing  at  New  York  University  stresses  the  principal 

78  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

errors  in  script  writing:  (i)  deficient  story  interest;  (2)  failure 
to  develop  a  story  after  getting  it  started;  (3)  the  abuse  and 
improper  use  of  sound  effects;  (4)  writing  about  situations 
with  insufficient  knowledge.  Radio  technique  in  his  opinion 
is  not  as  important  as  story  technique:  "Most  people  who 
can  write  the  story  can  be  taught  to  write  radio,"  explains 
Mr.  Wyle.  "If  it's  a  good  story,  even  though  the  script  be 
spotted  with  technical  mistakes,  we  can  turn  it  into  a  good 
show  and  usually  without  very  elaborate  repair  work." 

The  tendency  for  most  amateur  writers  is  to  write  about 
situations  they  have  observed  only  in  the  movies.  The  pre- 
cipitate young  writers  who  live  in  Alaska  create  stories  about 
Florida  night  clubs,  and  innumerable  young  people  fresh 
from  the  colleges  weave  their  stories  in  settings  about  which 
they  know  little.  The  young  girls  of  the  middle  west  essay 
the  gangster  problem  of  New  York.  Geographical  areas  of 
course  have  no  bindings  on  the  imagination,  but  the  aspir- 
ing writer  is  urged  to  avoid  distorted  pictures  by  handling 
material  with  which  he  is  unfamiliar.  Wyle  continues  his  in- 
junctions to  the  amateur: 

"We  might  say  that  if  sound  does  not  clarify  a  piece  of 
stage  business;  if  sound  does  not  emphasize  or  fix  a  spoken 
line;  if  sound  does  not  intensify  atmosphere,  it  does  not 
belong  in  the  script.  Never  use  a  sound  cue  to  indicate  the 
physical  action  of  a  character  unless  the  action  is  already  un- 
der way  or  the  intention  already  known. 

"We  can  set  down  another  rule  too:  Never  use  adverbs 
or  adjectives  in  a  sound  cue  unless  those  adverbs  and  adjec- 
tives qualify  either  microphone  perspective  or  sound  vol- 
ume. Never  use  the  word  'denote'  in  a  sound  cue.  If  the 
sound,  of  itself,  does  not  denote  what  it  is  intended  to  de- 
note, it  is  no  good." 

The  outlook  field  of  writing  is  growing  brighter.  Writers 
who  have  earned  their  livelihood  in  all  the  other  branches 
of  writing,  are  now  turning  to  radio  to  try  their  luck.  In 


the  past  glaring  and  scientific  errors  were  committed  too 
often.  Today  elaborate  research  departments  are  maintained 
to  assure  authenticity.  Specialists  like  Raymond  Ditmars, 
the  zoologist,  and  Paul  de  Kruif,  bacteriologist,  have  been 
called  upon  to  eliminate  blunders. 

The  space  of  an  hour  is  required  as  the  norm  for  the  pre- 
sentation of  radio  plays.  An  hour  permits  time  for  practically 
all  the  dialogues  and  scenes.  In  most  instances,  the  stage 
business  and  intermissions  can  be  omitted.  A  listener  can 
make  sense  out  of  a  play  that  runs  an  hour.  It  is  difficult 
for  him  to  warm  up  an  imagination  when  a  fifteen-minute 
excerpt  is  flung  at  him.  Many  of  the  hour-long  programs 
have  been  extraordinarily  appealing  to  the  listener. 

Streamlined  Experiments 

During  the  summer  of  1937,  D°th  NBC  and  CBS  engaged 
in  the  experiment  of  producing  Shakespeare.  This  period  is 
known  as  the  Monday  Evening  Battle  of  the  Bards  for  both 
networks  chose  the  same  hour  and  the  same  day  to  educate 
the  masses  in  the  less  familiar  plays  of  Shakespeare.  The 
rarity  of  Shakespeare  on  the  air  is  due  to  the  belief  that  the 
multitudes  could  not  endure  Elizabethan  drama.  The  net- 
works decided  to  enter  upon  this  artistic  venture  in  spite  of 
the  limitations  of  the  twelve-year-old  mind  audience.  It 
was  estimated  by  Alton  Cook  that  the  Fibber  McGee  and 
Molly  Program,  commanded  a  fifty  per  cent  larger  audience 
than  the  two  Shakespearian  productions  on  the  air  at  the 
same  hour. 

Columbia  executives  estimated  over  seven  million  five 
hundred  thousand  listened  to  Edward  G.  Robinson  in 
the  "Taming  of  the  Shrew."  NBC  offered  a  series  with 
John  Barrymore  and  his  wife  in  what  has  been  termed 
streamlined  Shakespeare.  The  plays  offered  by  CBS  brought 
a  number  of  principals  from  Hollywood  who  had  their  first 

80  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

opportunity  to  play  Shakespeare.  Burgess  Meredith,  hailed 
by  the  critics  as  the  Hamlet  of  1940,  essayed  the  role  of 
Hamlet.  Edward  G.  Robinson  became  Petrucchio.  Lionel 
Barrymore  wept  with  the  pathos  of  the  venerable  King  Lear. 
Leslie  Howard  brought  wit  and  ardor  to  Benedict. 

To  Cut  or  Not  to  Cut 

Streamlined  Shakespeare  is  the  term  by  which  Barrymore 
characterized  his  cutting  of  the  plays  to  fit  the  exigencies 
of  the  microphone.  "Hamlet,"  as  penned  by  Shakespeare, 
runs  five  hours  on  the  stage.  For  the  stage,  Howard  and 
Gielgud,  cut  it  to  three.  For  radio,  Barrymore  reduced  it 
to  forty-five  minutes.  In  effect,  Barrymore's  condensed  ver- 
sions were  merely  tabloid  impressions  of  the  action.  There 
was  much  dramatic  slicing  and  with  more  than  two-thirds 
of  the  text  lopped  off,  only  the  genius  of  Barrymore  stepping 
in  and  out  of  monologue  saved  the  experiment.  Sound 
effects  and  musical  embellishment  painted  the  psychological 

Barrymore  employed  the  Greek  device  of  a  narrator  who 
sets  forth  to  the  radio  audience  the  argument  of  the  play 
before  reading  the  lines.  Only  the  more  dominant  scenes 
were  selected,  and  these  were  enacted  in  full  with  appro- 
priate music,  to  form  tonal  backgrounds  equivalent  to  visual 

The  rival  network,  CBS,  entrusted  to  Brewster  Morgan 
the  eight  Shakespearian  plays.  Even  the  most  expert  play- 
wright would  be  phased  by  the  job  of  telescoping  the  parts 
of  "Henry  IV"  to  fit  into  an  hour's  entertainment  on 
the  air.  Mr.  Morgan  succeeded  in  compressing  six  thou- 
sand seven  hundred  and  sixty  lines  of  the  original  folio 
into  one  thousand  six  hundred  lines  for  a  one-hour  pro- 
duction. All  this  had  to  be  done  skilfully  without  injury  to 
the  heart  of  the  drama,  with  a  clear  understanding  of  the 


listener's  response  to  movement,  clearness,  and  unity  of 
action.  Shakespeare  is  ideal  for  radio.  The  playwright  had 
all  the  devices  for  conveying  information  about  lapses  of 
times  and  shifts  in  locality  by  means  of  the  dialogue. 

Another  experiment  of  note  is  the  First  Person  Singular 
method  of  Orson  Welles.  Orson  Welles,  a  youngster  with  an 
amazingly  big  voice,  rapidly  rose  to  importance  in  the  the- 
ater by  his  experiments  in  classic  plays  like  "Julius  Caesar." 
Radio  had  already  known  him  by  his  eerie,  vibrant  voice 
as  "The  Shadow."  In  the  summer  of  1938,  Columbia  Broad- 
casting Company  offered  him  its  Summer  Theatre  of  the 
Air  for  nine  weeks'  dramatic  experiment.  And  so  the  Mer- 
cury Theatre  transplanted  itself  from  the  stage  to  the  micro- 

Let  us  engage  ourselves  to  the  method  of  Welles:  Welles 
decries  the  use  of  talk  to  set  the  stage.  He  says,  "There  is 
nothing  that  seems  more  unsuited  to  the  technique  of  the 
microphone  than  to  tune  in  a  play  and  hear  an  announcer 
say,  'The  curtain  is  now  rising  on  a  presentation  of  .  .  .' 
and  then  for  him  to  set  the  stage,  introduce  the  characters 
and  go  on  with  the  play.  The  curtain  is  not  rising  at  all, 
as  everybody  well  knows,  and  this  method  of  introducing  the 
characters  and  setting  the  locale  seems  hopelessly  inadequate 
and  clumsy." 

This  conventional  technique  of  radio  drama  has  nothing  of 
the  personal  approach  of  the  true  theater.  The  First  Person 
Singular  technique  provides  for  a  narrator  who  as  the  story- 
teller is  presumed  to  bring  more  intimacy  to  the  dramatic 
broadcast.  The  listener  responds  with  a  close  intimacy  when 
the  narrator  immediately  makes  himself  part  of  the  action 
and  begins:  "Now  this  is  how  it  happened."  Welles  made 
no  undue  claims  for  his  innovation.  He  regarded  the  new 
technique  as  merely  an  experiment  in  microphone  drama 
and  experiments  are  better  than  consistency  to  old  forms 
designed  for  the  stage. 

82  RAPE   OF   RADIO 

Welles  made  a  startling  impression  with  "Dracula."  His 
adaptation  of  novels  suffered  from  the  crowding  of  too  much 
plot  into  a  single  hour.  On  occasion,  as  in  "The  Thirty-nine 
Steps,"  the  drama  was  told  almost  entirely  in  the  first  person, 
which  makes  the  program  referred  to  as,  "I,  Orson  Welles." 

The  Grip  of  the  Serials 

Radio  serials  are  called  script  shows  or  strip  shows.  The 
first  title  implies  that  actors  and  actresses  read  their  lines 
from  carefully  prepared  manuscript.  The  second  name  is 
fastened  to  such  programs  because  they  adapt  the  technique 
of  so-called  comic  strips  printed  each  day  in  the  newspapers. 
The  inspiration  for  plots  and  ideas  comes  from  popular 
novels,  plays,  motion  pictures  and  cartoon  strips  which  are 
already  familiar  to  the  public.  On  the  air  such  characters 
as  "Mrs.  Wiggs  of  the  Cabbage  Patch,"  "Alias  Jimmy  Valen- 
tine," "David  Harum"  and  "Stella  Dallas"  carry  on  from  the 
point  where  the  book  or  play  left  off.  Their  adventures 
appeal  with  added  interest  to  those  listeners  who  already 
know  the  central  characters. 

Chicago  holds  the  honor  of  mothering  the  first  day-time 
serials  sometime  in  1928.  By  virtue  of  the  fact  that  soap 
manufacturers  of  the  Windy  City  fostered  them,  the  serials 
to  this  day  are  called  "Soap  Opera."  And  for  this  reason 
too,  one  listener  suggested  that  the  networks  are  certainly 
cleaning  up  with  their  oleaginous  productions. 

Infinitely  various  are  the  emotions  which  the  serials  play 
for  the  purpose  of  amusement.  One  type  develops  stories 
which  stimulate  a  sense  of  power.  Such  serials  invite  their 
listeners  to  identify  themselves  with  a  gallant,  successful 
criminal  or  with  the  detective  or  hero  who  thwarts  him. 
Other  stories  deal  with  terrible  adventure  and  give  pleasure 
to  the  listeners  through  the  emotion  of  fear.  To  this  class 
belong  the  thrillers.  Another  large  group  stimulates  the 


listener's  desire  for  adventure  and  the  hope  of  taking  part 
in  scenes  as  unlike  as  possible  his  own  dreary  formula.  The 
serials  constantly  unearth  certain  emotions  of  the  listeners. 
They  arouse  and  discharge  these  emotions  in  make-believe 

Mrs.  Elaine  Sterne  Carrington  is  one  of  the  outstanding 
serial  script  writers.  "All  my  scripts,"  she  confides,  "are 
written  so  that  listeners  can  imagine  themselves  in  the  same 
situations  as  the  people  in  the  cast.  The  daytime  serials  fill 
a  tremendous  hole  in  lonely  people's  lives.  Listeners  take 
the  characters  to  heart  and  suffer,  live,  love  and  laugh  with 

Such  synthetic  sorrow  and  suffering  pour  from  the  micro- 
phone as  to  render  the  heart  strings  and  loosen  the  purse 
strings  for  a  wide  variety  of  products.  About  the  only  thing 
missing  is  the  moustasched  villain  who  holds  the  mortgage 
"poipers."  On  a  given  day  it  is  possible  to  hear  the  anguish 
of  a  crippled  lad  suffering  a  beating  from  a  strong  brat, 
the  tearful  pleas  of  a  patient  begging  a  doctor  to  operate 
on  a  hopeless  case,  and  the  hysterical  cries  of  a  woman  on 
the  verge  of  a  nervous  breakdown.  Intermingled  are  shat- 
tered romances,  innocents  charged  with  murder  and  pitiful 
eternal  triangles. 

The  serials  constantly  spur  the  emotions  and  the  listener 
thus  aroused  discharges  them  in  make-believe  situations. 
Most  listeners  are  worried  about  love,  money  and  business. 
As  a  type  of  "escape  fiction,"  the  serial  carries  them  out  of 
the  humdrum  through  the  triumph  of  character  in  tight 
situations.  The  listener  may  shed  tears  and  have  his  heart 
wrenched  by  the  course  of  events,  but  always  he  will  in  some 
way  feel  appeased  by  the  enactment  of  the  episode. 

Radio  serials  are  the  re-embodiment  of  the  serials  of  silent 
films.  They  follow  the  same  laws  of  interest  and  suspense. 
In  the  early  screen  days  stalwart  heroes  such  as  Eddie  Polo 
and  Charles  Hutchinson  invariably  triumphed  over  das- 

84  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

tardly  villains.  A  heroine  such  as  Pauline  met  peril  from 
week  to  week  unflinchingly,  as  she  was  left  hanging  from  a 
cliff,  or  rescued  from  a  burning  building.  Here  the  appeal 
was  to  the  eye,  and  the  visual  representation  of  each  episode 
was  measured  with  gripping  suspense  so  as  to  bring  the 
movie  fan  back  to  the  theater  for  the  next  episode.  Simi- 
larly, the  plot  of  the  radio  serial  is  left  hanging  day  by  day. 
The  imagination,  bestirred  by  the  ear  and  not  by  the  eye, 
has  its  foundation  in  the  personal  interpretation  of  the 
characters,  each  of  whom  is  keenly  etched  on  the  mind  of 
the  listener  as  to  appearance  and  surroundings.  The  radio 
serial  has  gripped  the  attention  of  listeners  with  amazing 
hold.  Millions  enjoy  that  vicarious  thrill  of  romance  and 
drama  which  comes  within  their  personal  measure  of  expe- 

From  twenty-two  stations  alone  twenty  serial  stories  pour 
into  the  ears  of  the  listeners  every  week  over  the  networks. 
The  primary  effort  of  such  programs  is  to  sustain  interest 
through  suspense  and  climaxes  which  challenge  the  listeners' 

From  the  brain  of  Carlton  E.  Morse,  a  former  writer  of 
blood  and  thunder  radio  dramas,  sprang  the  case  study  of 
"One  Man's  Family,"  the  Harbours,  an  average  American 
family  with  adolescent  children.  In  April,  1932,  the  program 
made  its  debut  on  KGO,  San  Francisco,  and  the  following 
year  came  to  the  ears  of  listeners  as  the  first  West  Coast 
serial  to  have  nation-wide  sponsorship.  Today  it  remains  in 
the  front  rank  of  the  hundreds  of  flimsy  little  playlets  heard 
on  the  air. 

The  Script  Formula 

The  formula  for  air  serials  has  been  tested  by  time  and 
not  been  found  wanting.  First,  the  characters  must  be  dis- 
tinctly lovable  and  human,  and  awaken  broad  sympathy  in 
the  listener. 


Most  of  these  scripts  are  success  stories  of  the  unsuccessful. 
"Just  Plain  Bill,"  for  instance,  in  his  humble  calling  of 
barber,  is  always  in  financial  difficulties.  "Lorenzo  Jones"  is 
an  inventor  whose  efforts  while  practically  futile,  through 
continued  zeal,  command  the  listener's  warm  regard.  Serial 
characters  make  a  real  success  of  their  lives  by  endearing 
themselves  to  the  folk  around  them. 

Second,  their  actions  should  be  believable.  To  this  end 
nothing  illogical  or  inconsistent  with  character  may  be  dwelt 
upon.  Hummert,  the  idea  expert  for  many  serials,  explains 
why.  He  says: 

"The  listener  has  a  way  of  placing  himself  in  the  boots 
of  his  'mike'  favorites  and  looks  for  a  definite  line  of  action 
to  which  he  would  respond  under  certain  situations.  It  is 
really  uncanny  how  the  fan  who  follows  the  radio  serial 
will  detect  any  inconsistency  or  flaw  in  character." 

The  hero  must  retain  high  principles  and  can  not  sud- 
denly turn  into  the  villain.  If  drastic  changes  are  made  in 
character,  protests  pour  into  the  broadcasting  studio.  Even 
the  death  of  a  character  may  be  regarded  as  inconsistent. 
The  death  of  Clifford's  wife  in  "One  Man's  Family"  brought 
down  the  wrath  of  hundreds  who  regarded  her  decease  as 
unjustified  by  fate. 

A  less  objectionable  form  of  the  serial  is  the  comedy  script 
which  brings  joy  to  many  a  masculine  heart.  Among  these 
are  the  perennial  "Amos  'n  Andy,"  "The  Goldbergs," 
"Myrt  and  Marge,"  "Easy  Aces,"  "Vic  and  Sade." 

The  story  of  the  Goldbergs  is  the  story  of  the  great  Ameri- 
can melting  pot  with  all  its  early  scenes  set  in  New  York 
City.  Molly  Goldberg  has  a  clinging  philosophy  developed 
in  girlhood  which  helps  her  through  the  years  as  she  and 
Jake,  her  husband,  climb  to  a  near-affluence  which  pulls 
them  through  the  depression.  Gertrude  Berg,  creator  of  the 
Goldbergs,  in  1937  reputedly  entered  a  million  dollar  con- 
tract with  the  Procter  and  Gamble  Company  of  Cincinnati 

86  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

to  star  in  the  series  over  a  period  of  a  year,  five  quarter-hour 
episodes  weekly. 

Almost  at  any  hour  of  the  day  you  can  pick  out  a  dramatic 
serial  from  comedy  to  melodrama  to  mystery  designed  to 
appeal  to  mothers  and  wives  while  they  do  their  household 
chores.  Often  the  commercial  demands  for  serials  is  so  great 
that  they  are  put  on  the  networks. 

"Vic  and  Sade"  who  began  their  air  career  in  1932,  is 
one.  In  the  Gook  family,  Vic  is  the  boyish  minded  father. 
Sade  is  the  typical  small-budget  housewife,  who  has  her 
hands  full  with  her  man  and  her  inventive,  chattering 
semi-spoiled  son  whose  name  is  Rush.  The  family  lives  in 
a  "smart"  house  half-way  up  the  block,  and  America's  heart 
can  throb  with  arguments  about  "Beef  punkles"  and  "Lim- 
ber Scharm"  cheese. 

Third,  the  serial  should  convey  a  representative  picture 
of  everyday  American  life  situations  that  are  realistic.  The 
essential  "realism"  of  the  Barbour  family  impels  listeners 
to  remark:  "I  am  sure  the  author  must  be  someone  who 
knows  our  family.  That  very  thing  happened  in  our  home." 

Once  when  Alice  Frost,  who  plays  the  leading  role  in 
"Big  Sister,"  caught  cold  in  one  of  the  episodes,  her  personal 
fan  mail  reached  new  proportions.  Her  radio  "cold"  was  so 
real  that  listeners  sent  their  favorite  cold  cures  to  her.  Nor 
is  it  uncommon  for  stations  to  receive  gifts  to  be  forwarded 
to  the  members  of  the  "Barbour  family"  on  their  "birth- 
days" or  for  Christmas. 

The  Blacket-Sample-Hummert  Advertising  Agency  spe- 
cializes in  serials  and  has  established  a  "script  factory"  for 
their  production.  The  headquarters  of  the  "script  factory" 
is  situated  in  Connecticut  at  the  home  of  Frank  Hummert 
and  his  wife,  Anne,  where  both  dictate  their  ideas  to  a 
battery  of  stenographers.  A  large  force  of  writers  whips  the 
ideas  into  dialogue  form,  and  every  line  is  carefully  edited 


by  the  Hummerts  to  guarantee  that  speech  befits  the 

Before  the  advent  of  the  Radio  Writers'  Union,  Mr.  and 
Mrs.  Hummert  claimed  authorship  of  most  of  the  scripts, 
although  they  were  written  by  anonymous  hacks  whose 
average  pay  was  the  pittance  of  $5.00  per  instalment.  The 
Hummerts  dictate  to  their  string  of  authors  exactly  the  type 
of  cheap  tabloid  fiction  which  they  have  found  makes  the 
most  money.  Any  initiative  or  imagination  shown  by  a 
writer  is  quickly  destroyed  by  such  a  plan  since  a  successful 
program  pays  the  same  wages  as  a  mediocre  one. 

The  Hummert  mill  produces  50  serial  scripts  a  week,  a 
total  of  some  6,500,000  words  a  year.  In  their  Greenwich, 
Connecticut  home  Frank  and  Anne  figure  out  the  trends 
of  their  serials  four  to  six  weeks  in  advance,  dictate  outlines 
to  stenographers.  Outline  for  an  episode  (Backstage  Wife) 
may  read  something  like  this:  "Suspecting  that  Cynthia  Val- 
court  murdered  Candy  Dolan  with  Ward  Ellman's  gun, 
after  Tess  left  the  flat,  Mary,  Larry  and  Ward  rush  to  Tony 
Valcourt's  penthouse  to  have  a  talk  with  Tony  and  Cynthia, 
having  sent  Tess  Morgan  to  her  apartment.  Arriving  at  the 
penthouse,  they  are  refused  admittance  by  the  butler.  .  .  . 
If  Cynthia  gets  away,  Tess  may  take  the  rap  for  the  crime. 
Can  they  save  her?  .  .  .  What  will  Tess  do?" 

When  a  script  is  finished  by  the  ghost  writers  it  goes  to 
an  adjunct  of  the  Hummert  mill  known  as  Air  Features, 
Inc.,  for  production.  No  Hummert  ghost  may  even  stick  his 
nose  inside  Air  Features'  production  studios. 

By  hiring  dialogue  writers,  and  not  creators,  the  Hum- 
merts save  lots  of  money.  Most  serial  writers  in  radio  com- 
mand $200  to  $400  a  week.  For  The  Goldbergs,  Gertrude 
Berg  gets  about  $2,000.  The  Hummerts  pay  a  minimum 
$25  per  i5-minute  script. 

Among  the  serials  they  have  conceived  and  produced  for 
radio  are  "Just  Plain  Bill,"  "Mrs.  Wiggs  of  the  Cabbage 

88  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

Patch,"  "Our  Gal  Sunday,"  "Lorenzo  Jones,"  "Stella 
Dallas,"  "Second  Husband,"  "Alias  Jimmy  Valentine," 
"John's  Other  Wife,  "David  Harum,"  "Popeye,"  "Mr. 
Kean,  Tracer  of  Lost  Persons"  and  "Backstage  Wife."  Their 
success  is  measured  by  the  seventy-five  million  letters  re- 
ceived from  fans  each  year.  The  Hummerts'  shows  have  been 
on  the  air  for  as  long  as  eight  years  without  a  change  of 

Crime  and  law  enforcement  are  vital  themes  to  attract 
male  listeners  who  go  beyond  the  homey  and  folksy  appeal 
of  the  afternoon  serial.  The  "Gang  Busters"  dramatizes 
actual  crimes  in  a  semi-narrative  and  dramatic  method.  Law 
enforcement  officers,  such  as  Lewis  E.  Lawes,  of  Sing  Sing 
Prison,  have  been  enlisted  to  lend  an  authoritative  touch 
and  moral  tone  to  such  programs  as  "Twenty  Thousand 
Years  in  Sing  Sing." 

In  his  more  recent  broadcasting,  Edward  G.  Robinson 
is  cast  as  a  hard-boiled  newspaper  editor  in  "Big  Town." 
He  has  an  audience  among  the  thirty-minute  entertainers 
exceeded  only  by  Jack  Benny.  Robinson  is  the  protagonist 
who  exposes  the  rackets  and  cracks  down  on  the  malefactors. 
So  credible  is  his  script  and  his  acting,  that  he  has  actually 
stirred  up  civic  responsibility  of  officials  in  many  communi- 
ties. "Big  Town"  is  one  of  the  best  examples  of  the  three 
requisites  of  serial  writing.  First,  each  episode  is  complete 
in  itself.  Second,  the  story  is  credible.  Third,  the  dialogue 
is  fast  moving.  The  authors  of  Robinson's  serials  have  been 
Courtney  Ryley  Cooper,  Arthur  Caesar,  Arch  Oboler  and 
Art  Holden. 

Many  popular  novels  have  furnished  the  basis  for  the 
serializations  of  the  five-times-a-week  broadcasts.  Their  em- 
phasis is  mainly  on  the  psychological  approach  rather  than 
on  violent  action.  The  best  artists  have  consented  to  appear 
in  the  serializations  of  novels,  even  though  critics  have 
deemed  the  vehicle  unworthy  of  their  art.  Helen  Hayes  was 


engaged  for  "Bambi"  which  was  chosen  not  for  the  millions 
in  the  big  cities  but  for  the  vast  scattered  population  of  the 
rural  areas.  In  the  hand  of  a  lesser  actress  the  words  would 
have  been  less  meaningful,  but  Helen  Hayes  did  the  best 
possible  with  none  too  engrossing  situations. 

An  actress  in  radio  is  not  concerned  about  the  vehicle 
which  is  provided  for  her.  Helen  Hayes  justifies  her  appear- 
ance in  serials  thus:  "This  serial  is  literate,"  she  said. 
"It  has  clever  lines  and  its  characters  talk  like  people.  Be- 
sides, who  is  Helen  Hayes  except  to  a  group  that  follows  the 
Broadway  theatre?"  The  theory  is  that  if  the  sponsors  are 
willing  to  lavish  the  talents  of  one  of  the  greatest  actresses 
of  our  generation  on  a  trivial  playlet,  the  public  ought  not 
to  be  ungrateful  enough  to  object. 

Once  a  show  catches  on,  the  loyalty  of  listeners  is  almost 
beyond  belief.  They  will  send  in  box  tops  by  the  thousands 
to  insure  the  continuation  of  their  serial  drama. 

Helen  Menken  is  the  serial  queen  of  the  air.  Her  adven- 
tures in  "Second  Husband"  are  more  dangerous  emotionally 
than  physically,  but  the  same  pattern  of  climax  is  followed 
as  is  found  in  the  more  hectic  gangster  episodes.  Always  the 
question  is  asked  at  the  end:  "Well,  what  will  happen  next 
time?  Tune  in  again  on  Monday,  and  .  .  ." 

The  plot  element  and  dialogue  have  something  of  the 
nature  of  the  pulpwood  type  of  printed  fiction,  and  the 
slushy  analysis  of  frustrated  women  plays  on  the  heartstrings 
of  a  world  of  feminine  listeners. 

"Second  Husand"  is  homey  and  leisurely  paced.  The  story 
concerns  a  young  widow,  dressmaker  of  a  western  mining 
town,  who  with  her  two  children  bravely  faces  the  world, 
wins  the  love  of  a  rich  easterner,  and  becomes  Broadway's 
most  celebrated  actress. 

Helen  Menken  describes  her  first  appearance  in  the  role 
as  akin  to  groping  in  the  dark  without  knowing  what  reac- 
tions she  would  create.  She  need  not  have  had  any  qualms 

go  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

about  the  sure-fire  success  of  a  serial.  The  whole  affair  has 
been  characterized  as  kindergarten  stuff  for  an  actress  of  her 
attainment.  Without  her  subtle  coloring  of  voice,  the  con- 
ventional characterizations  would  have  fallen  flat. 

Serial  writers  are  guided  by  one  injunction:  "Take  care 
of  the  climax  1"  Every  device  known  to  drama  is  employed 
in  the  effort  to  sustain  interest  through  suspense.  If  the 
climax  is  weak  the  episode  must  be  bolstered  up.  Many 
writers  first  fix  on  the  climax.  The  climax  can  always  be 
made  hair-raising.  The  "suspense"  formula  is  easily  handled 
by  the  writer.  A  dilemma  is  introduced  on  Tuesday  and  is 
solved  on  Monday.  The  climax  is  reached  on  Friday,  for  the 
listener  must  be  left  in  a  dither  of  excitement  on  that  day 
so  that  there  will  be  sufficient  interest  to  carry  over  the 
week-end  recess. 

A  radio  serial  fan  was  impelled  to  pen  this  complaint  to 
his  radio  station:  "Carroll  Kennedy  has  been  kidnapped. 
A  burning  house  has  fallen  on  'Big  Sister.'  'Aunt  Jenny' 
leaves  a  poor  girl  in  a  vacant  house  with  a  drunk.  'Helen 
Trent*  is  shot  at,  and  'The  O'Neils'  lose  a  crook  through 
an  open  window.  And  nothing  can  be  done  about  it  all  till 

Often  the  climax  may  present  a  psychological  crisis. 
Sketches  like  "One  Man's  Family"  and  "The  House  of 
Glass"  disclose  the  intimate  soul-reactions  of  familiar  types. 
We  are  regarded  as  a  nation  of  eavesdroppers,  ever  alert  to 
find  out  what  our  next-door  neighbor  is  saying. 

The  more  popular  serials  are  stories  about  everyday 
people  who  are  forced  into  quandries  that  awaken  the 
listeners'  keen  sympathy,  and  appeal  to  the  common  liking 
for  that  which  seems  genuine  and  thoroughly  human.  Un- 
usual events  and  experiences  strikingly  out  of  the  ordinary 
have  their  appeal  because  they  take  the  listener  away  from 
his  own  humdrum  existence.  Many  serial  programs  have 
captured  the  daily  expectancy  of  a  laugh  through  their 


subtle  touches  on  humorous  situations  enhanced  by  smart 
dialogue,  and  unexpected  complications. 

A  strong  protest  is  being  voiced  against  the  cluttering  up 
of  the  air  with  these  serials.  The  charge  specifically  is 
i.  These  shows  are  too  commercialized.  2.  There  are  too 
many  of  them.  3.  They  are  too  much  alike.  4.  The  daylight 
stretch  is  out  of  program  balance. 

The  average  time  for  commercials  on  a  fifteen-minute 
program  is  two  minutes,  forty-five  seconds.  The  average 
time  for  the  actual  plots  in  the  sketches  is  eight  minutes, 
forty-five  seconds.  The  rest  of  the  time  is  consumed  by 
synopses,  summaries,  theme  music  and  contest  announce- 

The  National  Council  of  Women  and  the  General  Federa- 
tion of  Women's  Clubs  organized  a  "We're  Not  Listening 
Campaign."  The  agitation  soon  blew  over.  It  was  stated  that 
women  of  superior  financial  and  cultural  advantages  were 
assuming  a  crusading  role  on  behalf  of  the  "D"  and  "E" 
grades  who  had  no  desire  to  be  saved  from  the  serial  menace. 
They  wanted  to  be  left  alone  to  sob  in  peace,  and  not  be 
regaled  by  talks  on  book  reviews  and  dramatic  criticism. 
Radio  answers  the  hue  and  cry  of  the  club  women  by  assert- 
ing that  the  pulpwood  fiction  is  the  natural  mental  level 
and  proper  showmanly  approach  to  the  homes  of  two  thou- 
sand dollars  and  less  income,  or  the  mass  market  for  soap, 
and  boiled  fats. 

Mrs.  Wilfred  Winans,  President  of  the  Woman's  Club  of 
New  Rochelle,  expressed  it:  "We  would  like  more  good 
music,  book  and  play  reviews,  information  about  health, 
child  care,  gardening,  home  decoration,  a  balance  of  the 
practical  and  intellectual.  Health  should  have  a  definite 
place  on  programs  where  the  listeners  are  home  makers." 
So  the  struggle  goes  on.  Women  may  cry  out  for  discussions 
on  domestic  and  international  affairs,  health,  nutrition  and 
the  like,  but  they  continue  to  be  served  with  the  maudlin 


drivel  of  the  serial.  They  will  stand  for  light  skits  like  "Vic 
and  Sade"  to  help  them  view  their  own  domestic  problems. 
The  American  family,  according  to  Mrs.  Elaine  Sterne 
Carrington,  has  five  big  problems  in  common.  And  they  are 
here  set  down,  because  they  are  based  on  the  mail  she 
received  from  all  parts  of  the  country: 

1.  Should  the  sixteen  or  seventeen  year  old  boy  or  girl 
be  permitted  to  use  the  family  automobile? 

2.  Should  children  be  given  an  allowance  or  be  paid  for 
chores,  such  as  cutting  the  grass,  shoveling  snow  or  milking 
the  cow? 

3.  Should  youngsters  be  given  a  latchkey  or  should  the 
family  sit  up  and  wait  for  Johnny  to  come  home? 

4.  How  late  should  the  sixteen  or  seventeen  year  old 
Mary  stay  out  in  the  evening? 

5.  Why  cannot  a  boy  decide  for  himself  whether  he  is  to 
go  to  college  or  go  to  work?  For  example,  if  a  young  man 
wants  to  be  an  airplane  pilot  why  should  his  parents  insist 
that  he  follow  another  career? 

The  Radio  Debut  of  Poetic  Drama 

The  failure  of  the  average  poet  as  a  poetic  dramatist  arose 
from  his  isolation  in  his  Ivory  Tower,  far  removed  from  the 
lives  and  language  of  the  masses.  Radio  compelled  the 
dramatist  to  get  down  to  earth,  because  it  deals  with  mass 
entertainment.  It  remained  for  Archibald  MacLeish  to  create 
the  first  play  in  verse  for  air  productions.  Produced  in  the 
spring  of  1937  under  the  direction  of  Irving  Reis  of  the 
Columbia  Workshop,  "The  Fall  of  the  City"  was  acclaimed 
as  the  first  real  dramatic  classic  of  the  air. 

The  plot  of  the  play  is  significant.  It  portrays  the  coming 
of  a  dictator  to  a  free  city  and  his  enslavement  of  its  popu- 
lation. A  dead  woman  speaks  from  her  tomb  to  warn  of 
the  coming  of  the  conqueror.  An  announcer  from  a  high 


strategic  post  above  the  city  square,  bespeaks  the  fear  and 
panic  of  the  multitudes  below  him,  and  communicates  the 
news  of  the  conqueror's  impending  arrival.  Other  voices 
utter  forebodings — a  statesman,  an  old  general,  and  a  priest, 
each  in  his  own  way.  Dawn  draws  near.  The  masses  are 
terrified,  obsessed  by  the  fear  of  the  loss  of  their  liberty. 
The  conqueror  enters.  The  crowd  casts  away  its  weapons 
and  grovels  in  the  dust.  Only  the  announcer  sees  through 
the  emptiness  of  the  conqueror.  There  is  nothing  inside  the 
armor  of  the  conqueror,  his  brass  headpiece  is  empty,  and 
the  crowd  has  been  vanquished  by  its  fears  alone. 

In  MacLeish's  scheme  of  poetic  radio  drama,  the  an- 
nouncer becomes  the  most  useful  dramatic  personage  since 
the  Greek  Chorus,  whose  function  was  and  is  to  anticipate 
events,  to  interpret  events,  and  to  excite  the  emotions. 

Written  dramas  for  the  stage  have  always  felt  the  necessity 
of  some  sort  of  commentator.  "The  commentator  is  an  inte- 
gral part  of  radio  technique,"  said  MacLeish.  "His  presence 
is  as  natural  as  it  is  familiar,  and  his  presence  without  more, 
restores  to  the  poet  that  obliquity  and  perspective,  that 
three-dimensional  depth  without  which  great  poetic  drama 
cannot  exist." 

MacLeish  believes  that  the  radio  techniques  are  perfectly 
adapted  to  the  poetic  method.  Writers  of  prose  plays  for 
radio  have  practically  ignored  the  tools  which  poetic  drama 
affords.  They  write  for  radio  as  they  would  write  for  the 
stage.  MacLeish  regards  the  absence  of  television  as  an 
added  opportunity  for  the  playwright:  "With  the  eye  closed 
or  staring  at  nothing,  this  has  every  power  over  the  air. 
The  air  accepts  and  believes,  accepts  and  creates.  The  ear 
is  the  poet's  perfect  audience,  his  only  true  audience,  and 
it  is  radio  and  only  radio  which  can  give  him  access  to 
this  perfect  friend." 

Although  "The  Fall  of  the  City"  was  heralded  as  a  mile- 
stone in  the  art  of  broadcasting,  many  manifest  faults 

94  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

marred  its  understanding.  Orrin  E.  Dunlap,  Jr.,  described 
the  play  as  "sing-song  literature  of  the  air  with  a  narrator 
who  had  something  of  the  Shakespearean  flavor  plus  the 
manner  of  a  McNamee  describing  a  football  game."  This 
is  an  aspersion  on  Orson  Welles,  who  played  the  part  of  the 
announcer.  Actors  rushed  through  their  lines  so  quickly 
that  the  listener  did  not  have  time  to  see  the  scene.  Even 
the  poetic  drama  required  pauses  necessary  to  grip  the 

MacLeish  sought  for  simplicity  in  the  use  of  words  and 
restraint.  The  problem  of  the  radio  play  is  the  same  as  for 
all  creative  mediums.  The  playwright  was  mindful  that 
radio  characters  must  be  etched.  He  was  also  mindful  that 
radio  drama  is  still  reliant  on  sound.  The  voice  of  the 
announcer,  ringing  with  dramatic  foreboding,  "Smoke  is 
filling  the  valleys  like  thunder  heads — the  sun  is  yellow 
with  smoke — the  town  is  burning — let  the  conqueror  have 
it,  the  age  is  his — masterless  men  take  a  master — men  must 
be  ruled — he  tramples  his  shadow — the  people  invent  their 

Archibald  MacLeish  repeated  his  first  success  in  "Air 
Raid"  performed  by  the  Columbia  Workshop  in  1938.  The 
ominous  drone  of  the  planes,  the  shriek  of  the  sirens,  all 
recur  like  a  sinister  theme  in  a  turbulent  symphony.  John 
Mason  Brown  regards  it  as  a  "little  masterpiece,  so  bruising 
in  its  irony  and  so  terrific  in  its  suspense  and  so  moving 
in  its  unadorned  and  lovely  language  that  I  for  one,  only 
wish  the  theatre  could  claim  it  as  its  own. 

"It  is  studded  with  characters  who  are  quickly  and  unfor- 
gettably established  as  symbols  of  sufferings — old  women, 
gossips,  and  young  lovers  whose  every  speech  is  a  cry  from 
their  hearts  that  stabs  its  way  into  ours." 

Using  the  same  devise  as  in  "The  Fall  of  the  City" 
MacLeish  made  his  narrator  a  radio  announcer,  stationed 
on  a  tenement  roof,  awaiting  an  enemy  bombing  raid: 


Strange  and  curious  these  times  we  live  in: 
You  watch  from  kitchens  for  the  bloody  signs: 
You  watch  for  breaking  war  above  the  washing 
on  the  lines. 

The  feeling  of  terror  and  dread  is  dramatically  projected. 
There  the  tension  is  increased  by  stressing  the  time  element. 
The  number  of  minutes  that  have  passed  are  announced 
with  regularity  and  so,  too,  are  the  number  of  minutes  that 
must  be  endured  before  the  dreaded  arrival  of  enemy  planes. 
The  populace  refuses  to  believe  that  when  the  bombing 
planes  arrive  they  will  be  the  first  to  die.  The  planes  swing 
into  strategic  formation.  Women  shout  their  defiance.  But 
Death  sweeps  the  towns. 

The  genius  of  Maxwell  Anderson  turned  to  original  radio 
drama  in  "Feast  of  Ortolans,"  presented  over  NBC's  net- 
work in  1937.  The  action  begins  at  the  dinner  table  in  the 
chateau  of  a  French  noble  on  the  eve  of  the  French  Revo- 
lution. Here  are  assembled  a  group  of  famous  writers, 
intellectuals  and  noblemen  such  as  Beaumarchais,  Lafayette, 
Condorcet,  and  Philippe  of  Orleans.  Anderson  tried  the 
experiment  of  having  no  individual  protagonist  of  the 
action.  Instead,  the  individual  emerges  from  the  group  as 
a  representative  of  that  group.  Thus  Lafayette  speaks  not 
only  as  the  idealist  of  the  gathering  but  for  idealism.  At 
various  times  during  the  half  hour  of  the  play  the  radio 
audience  may  not  know  who  is  talking. 

Another  special  radio  play  written  by  Anderson,  "The 
Bastion  of  St.  Gervais,"  is  the  story  of  four  young  Americans 
who  went  to  Spain  to  fight  on  behalf  of  the  Loyalist  forces. 
The  action  takes  place  on  the  ruins  of  a  Bastion  hillside. 
Here  is  a  play  built  without  sound  effects  except  for  the 
defiant  shots  of  a  sniper,  the  rat-a-tat-tat  of  a  machine  gun, 
the  moan  of  a  dying  Moor  calling  to  Allah,  and  in  the  finale, 
the  foreboding  climax  of  the  enemy  soldiers  closing  in  on 
the  ruined  castle  where  the  Americans  faced  their  fate. 

96  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

Anderson's  productions  have  been  termed  "voice  plays," 
ingeniously  dialogued.  "Dialogue  is  my  paint  brush,"  he 
says.  In  Anderson's  plays,  every  sentence  is  significant  of 
pathos,  suspense,  the  tensities  of  the  scene.  Nothing  but 
tragedy  marks  the  lines,  and  the  comic  spirit  is  suppressed. 

Alfred  Kreymbourg  was  prompted  to  turn  to  radio  be- 
cause he  deemed  it  a  medium  which  makes  a  most  direct 
appeal  to  the  imagination.  In  his  poetic  play,  "The  Planets" 
(CBS,  1937),  he  demonstrated  the  theory  that  radio  dialogue 
need  not  be  highbrow.  Withal  the  language  of  the  plot  is 
so  simple.  No  over  lengthy  speeches  impede  the  action. 
Kreymbourg  holds  that  poets  must  write  on  the  level  with 
the  people  on  the  level  of  radio. 

The  central  figure  of  Kreymbourg's  allegorical  drama  is 
an  old  astrologer  who  on  seeing  the  earth  threatened  by 
invading  armies  makes  an  effort  to  save  the  human  race  by 
mirroring  the  horrors  of  past  wars.  He  points  his  glass 
toward  the  heavens  and  searches  for  peace.  In  the  course  of 
his  starry  adventures  he  meets  the  planetary  gods,  Mars, 
Mercury,  Saturn,  Uranus,  Neptune,  who  roamed  the  earth 
as  in  the  days  of  Greece. 

Kreymbourg's  drama  proved  that  in  radio,  not  only  can 
the  scene  be  shifted  without  scene  shifters  but  it  is  possible 
to  jump  from  planet  to  planet.  Kreymbourg's  management 
of  over  thirty  characters  makes  it  difficult  for  the  listener 
at  times  to  know  who  is  talking.  Voices  cut  in  abruptly  and 
"for  sixty  minutes,"  says  one  critic,  "the  listeners  were  sus- 
pended in  space." 

Such  a  treatment  of  radio  drama  indicates  a  startling 
resourcefulness  which  the  medium  holds  for  the  ingenious 
author.  Kreymbourg  himself  says:  "While  'The  Planets'  can 
be  performed  on  stage  or  screen,  its  prime  consideration  is 
the  ear,  and  its  background  unhampered  space.  Further- 
more, radio  sets  a  limit  on  the  time  people  can  act  or  tune 
in.  In  this  case  it  is  one  hour.  This  restriction  has  the 


virtue  of  forcing  an  author  to  concentrate  his  energies,  and 
to  employ  (whether  he  knows  it  or  not)  the  Greek  dramatic 
form — the  short  play  without  intermission." 

Perhaps  the  use  of  ornamentalizing  radio  drama  through 
verse  has  for  its  chief  value  the  illusion  of  world  removed 
from  reality.  The  poetic  level  impels  listeners  to  attune 
themselves  more  easily  to  that  state  of  feeling  to  which  the 
author  wishes  to  make  them  most  susceptible.  W.  Somerset 
Maugham  deplored  the  demand  for  realism  in  the  theater 
because  it  led  the  theater  to  abandon  the  "ornament  of 
verse."  The  use  of  the  verse,  he  found,  had  specific  dramatic 
value  due  to  the  emotional  power  of  rhythmic  speech. 

Sound  Effects 

Radio  turned  to  sound  effects  for  realism  and  its  stage 
sets.  Sound  effects  create  picture  effects,  and  help  create  that 
illusion  upon  which  the  imagination  of  the  listener  feeds. 
Radio  sans  television  has  no  scenery  except  the  scenery  of 
sounds.  In  the  Elizabethan  drama,  the  audience  was  obliged 
to  imagine  a  forest  by  reading  a  sign  on  the  stage,  "This 
is  a  forest."  The  radio  audience  sees  the  forest  through  the 
ear  by  catching  the  swish  of  the  wind  and  the  falling  of 

The  use  of  sound  effects  has  made  possible  a  kaleidoscopic 
movement  in  drama.  The  play  may  concern  a  heroine  in  a 
terrific  struggle  with  her  husband.  She  leaves  the  house, 
grabs  her  suitcase,  jumps  into  a  taxi  and  orders  the  driver 
to  speed  to  the  pier.  She  wants  to  catch  the  first  boat  out. 
On  the  legitimate  stage  dramatic  action  such  as  this  would 
require  the  choice  of  one  of  these  scenes  to  expound  the 
plot.  The  scene  selected  might  be  the  woman's  home,  the 
taxicab,  or  the  pier.  In  radio  drama,  sound  effects  make 
possible  a  swift  sequence  of  this  action,  cinema-like  in  its 
rapid  transition.  We  hear  the  noise  of  the  scuffle  in  the 

98  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

home;  furniture  thrown  about;  panes  of  glass  broken.  We 
catch  the  roar  of  the  city  traffic  while  the  taxi  honks;  on 
the  docks  the  siren  of  the  boat  sounds  a  shrill  warning. 

Sound  effects  may  be  divided  into  five  sections:  vocal, 
manual,  electrical,  recordings  and  acoustical.  NBC  has  over 
twelve  thousand  sound  recordings  in  its  library.  Records  take 
care  of  about  seventy-five  per  cent  of  the  effects  heard  over 
the  air.  Radio  has  created  a  new  group  of  specialists  in  this 
field.  Manual  effects  include  those  which  cannot  be  re- 
corded, but  must  be  created  by  the  sound  man.  Windows 
and  doors,  telephone  noises,  door  bells  do  not  require  any 
special  ingenuity  in  creating.  Here  the  real  thing  is  the 

Today  audible  vibrations  are  picked  up  at  their  source 
and  recorded  for  instant  use  on  the  turntable  cabinet.  The 
cabinet  contains  electro-phonograph  pickups,  amplifiers,  and 
loud  speakers.  One  operator  can  handle  as  many  as  six 
records  at  once,  all  of  which  requires  the  utmost  skill  for 
mixing  sounds  to  get  the  right  effects.  NBC  has  thousands 
of  sound  effects  on  disks  recorded  at  their  natural  points 
of  origin,  ready  for  instant  use,  and  these  effects  can  be 
tripled  or  even  quadrupled  in  number  by  running  the  disks 
faster  or  slower,  or  by  combination.  Like  a  chemist  experi- 
menting with  new  mixtures,  the  operator  is  always  experi- 
menting with  new  sound  mixtures. 

The  first  sound  effects  in  radio  drama  went  on  the  air 
in  1922,  over  WGY,  Schenectady,  during  a  broadcast  of 
"The  Wolf,"  the  drama  of  Eugene  Walter.  The  director 
of  the  play  slapped  two  pieces  of  wood  together  to  simulate 
the  slamming  of  a  door.  From  this  point  on,  sound  effects 
emerged  as  the  triumph  of  art  and  engineering.  Among 
the  pioneers  in  this  field  are  Walter  Pierson,  sound-effect 
director  at  CBS  since  1933,  and  Ray  Kelley  who  has  held  the 
same  position  at  NBC  for  over  a  decade.  Kelley  instituted 


the  sound  effects  library  and  solved  sound  puzzles  which 
seemed  beyond  solution. 

Animal  sounds  are  still  produced  by  the  human  voice, 
and  many  by  experts  who  know  how  to  handle  their  vocal 
chords.  It  is  simple  enough  to  simulate  hoof  beats  by  tap- 
ping the  chest  with  plungers,  and  a  good  villainous  stabbing 
can  be  established  by  thrusting  a  knife  into  a  watermelon. 

In  the  studio  a  kiss  remains  a  kiss,  but  in  this  instance  the 
lips  always  meet  the  kisser's  own  hand.  Squeeze  water 
alternately  from  two  rubber  bulbs  and  you  hear  yourself 
milking  a  cow.  The  buzz  of  swarming  bees  comes  from  a 
little  horn.  A  battle  is  a  complicated  piece  of  sound-effect 
business.  For  the  big  guns  they  use  tympani  and  thunder 
gun.  The  rattle  of  musketry  is  nothing  else  than  short  sticks 
beaten  rapidly  on  the  leather  bottom  of  a  chair. 

When  Gertrude  Berg's  script  calls  for  the  frying  of  eggs, 
she  actually  fries  them  in  front  of  the  microphone,  but  she 
could  achieve  the  same  sound  effect  by  crumpling  a  piece  of 

Washing  dishes  is  easier  over  the  air  than  in  real  life. 
A  seltzer  bottle  squirted  across  the  microphone  produces 
this  effect.  James  Lyons,  NBC  sound  effects  man  at  San 
Francisco,  was  not  to  be  outdone  for  realism.  During  a 
Death  Valley  Days  broadcast,  to  simulate  the  sound  of  a 
prospector  washing  clothes,  he  washed  two  pairs  of  socks 
and  five  handkerchiefs  before  the  microphone. 

A  commercial  client  who  wished  to  give  talks  on  poultry 
wanted  to  get  the  realistic  effects  by  bringing  a  coop  of  hens 
and  a  lusty  rooster  to  the  studio.  A  plentiful  supply  of  corn 
was  scattered  around  the  microphone.  The  microphone  was 
connected  to  a  recording  device.  The  rooster  began  to  crow 
in  his  best  fashion. 

Many  calls  are  made  upon  Bradley  Barker,  specialist  in 
animal  noises.  Barker  has  given  years  of  his  life  to  the  per- 
fecting of  his  art.  He  spent  many  seasons  with  the  circus, 

100  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

learned  various  grunts,  growls,  whines  and  roars  of  animals 
so  accurately  that  he  could  differentiate  between  the  roar 
of  a  female  and  male  lion. 

For  realism  one  would  have  to  blow  up  a  mine,  but  why 
go  to  this  sorrow?  Get  a  pile  of  cardboard  boxes  filled  with 
stones  and  permit  them  to  tumble  before  the  mike. 

Vocal  effects  today  are  uncommon.  They  are  used  when 
a  unique  animal  sound  or  baby  cry  is  required.  There  is 
a  certain  young  active  Dorlore  Gillen  who  emits  such  life- 
like baby  cries  that  one  would  swear  that  there  was  an  infant 
in  the  studio  who  plays  the  role  of  baby  Davy  in  "The  Story 
of  Marlin." 

The  sound  which  the  listener  hears  most  often  in  drama  is 
the  whizz  of  the  automobile;  next  in  frequency  is  the  noise 
of  the  airplane;  third,  the  beat  of  horses'  hoofs.  Sounds 
require  the  most  exact  cuing.  Improper  timing  will  make  a 
scene  sound  ridiculous.  Certain  sounds,  like  the  closing  of 
a  door,  are  best  effected  by  the  real  thing.  Realism  demands 
a  variety  of  doors — automobile  doors,  front  doors,  gates,  iron 

There  may  be  as  many  as  a  dozen  different  noises  on  one 
side  of  a  record.  When  records  of  sounds  are  used  it  is 
important  that  the  operator  count  the  grooves  as  the  needle 
revolves  around  so  as  to  stop  it  exactly  at  the  right  moment. 
Sound  records  are  timed  to  the  lines  of  the  actors. 

Sound  Effects  in  Voice 

Irving  Reis  found  that  crude  sound  effects  marred  radio 
drama  and  defeated  its  purpose  by  presenting  insufficient 
or  wrong  images.  A  toot  on  a  whistle  might  be  sufficient  to 
convey  the  effect  of  a  water-front  scene,  but  only  a  limited 
effect.  The  listener  has  a  subconscious  feeling  that  something 
is  lacking.  A  single  artificial  sound  effect  may  be  enough 
to  make  the  play  unreal.  Faithful  sound  bestirs  the  mind  in 


a  manner  beyond  the  vocal  skill  of  the  average  actor.  It  was 
the  aim  of  Reis  to  employ  sound  as  the  strongest  stimulant 
to  the  imagination  and  to  arouse  emotions  in  an  abstract 
way,  to  convey  definite  impressions  of  mood  beyond  the 
familiar  type  of  background  noises  such  as  hoof-beats,  auto- 
mobile sounds,  shots  of  pistols  and  the  like.  A  single  cello 
note  on  an  electric  oscillator  changing  in  pitch  and  in  tone 
adds  impressively  to  the  dramatic  action  and  carries  what 
has  been  termed  an  ''awful  psychological  wallop."  In  "Tell 
Tale  Heart"  Reis  used  an  electrical  stethoscope  and  mag- 
nified the  human  heart  beat  ten  million  times.  When  "Gul- 
liver's Travels"  was  produced,  four  studios  were  used  to  re- 
duce some  voices  and  magnify  others,  and  keep  still  others 
normal.  The  giant  was  pictured  by  a  huge,  booming  voice 
and  the  little  fellows  by  small  voices. 

The  Columbia  Workshop  has  given  strong  impetus  to  the 
study  of  new  effects  in  vocal  acoustics.  "On  the  Columbia 
Workshop,"  said  Irving  Reis,  "we  have  to  take  the  wrinkles 
out  of  a  voice.  Through  the  use  of  an  electrical  filter,  we  add 
or  subtract  a  rasp,  a  lisp,  a  growl,  at  will.  We  have  learned 
how  to  enlarge  a  sound  until,  like  a  closeup  in  the  movies, 
it  occupies  the  entire  space  of  our  drama.  We  know  how  to 
pinch  a  sound  down  until  the  man's  voice  becomes  no 
louder  than  the  scratching  of  a  pinpoint  on  ivory.  We  have 
learned  to  make  sound  more  gruesome  and  distant  by  throw- 
ing it  through  an  echo-chamber.  We  have  even  invented 
new  sounds  to  express  things  unheard — or  added  a  strange 
sound  to  a  normal  one  to  get  an  exotic  effect — like  gold  dust 
powder  over  Marlene  Dietrich's  hair.  We  have  learned  that 
on  the  air  the  tonal  quality  of  an  actor's  voice  is  as  im- 
portant as  his  diction  and  expression  to  express  personality." 

Radio  drama  still  overdoes  sound  effects,  and  like  the 
old-time  melodrama,  relies  upon  brutal  noises,  like  gunshots. 
Unless  a  sound  effect  clarifies  a  piece  of  stage  business,  it 

102  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

is  useless.  The  ideal  radio  drama  is  scenery-less.  Maxwell 
Anderson  attempts  to  achieve  realism  by  the  marriage  of 
realistic  sounds  within  the  dialogue.  The  radio  dramatist 
can  pull  on  the  heart  strings  of  the  listener  by  making  sound 
effects  an  inherent  part  of  the  action  so  that  the  listener 
emotionalizes  with  the  characters  in  moments  of  tenderness, 
kindness,  and  love. 

Instruction  for  production  of  a  recent  chapter  in  one  of 
those  serial  thrillers  included  this  direction:  "Do  not  give 
sound  effect  of  arm  being  torn  from  socket.  Just  imply  it." 

Radio  Drama  Goes  Hollywood 

Radio  drama  in  1936  took  flight  from  the  East  to  the 
capital  of  the  movies.  The  alliance  of  the  networks  with  the 
film-producing  companies  was  strengthened  when  both  NBC 
and  CBS  built  palatial  playhouses  and  broadcasting  centers 
in  the  very  heart  of  Hollywood. 

Rudy  Vallee  helped  put  Hollywood  on  the  radio  map. 
Rudy  went  to  the  Coast  in  1928  to  make  pictures,  but 
managed  to  fulfill  his  broadcasting  contracts  at  the  same 
time.  His  program  went  on  the  air  from  a  barn-like  studio 
on  the  movie  lot  with  the  most  primitive  monitoring  booth 
and  sound  effects.  It  was  a  far  cry  from  the  Columbia  Play- 
house with  its  acoustically  perfected  studios. 

Experimental  programs  by  NBC  originating  in  New  York 
dispelled  the  fear  that  the  box  office  would  be  hurt  if  movie 
stars  were  permitted  to  play  on  the  air.  For  these  programs 
the  stars  had  to  come  by  plane  to  New  York  for  a  weekly 
Hollywood  program  on  the  networks. 

No  programs  of  a  network  nature  came  from  Hollywood 
before  1932.  Commercial  programs  had  switched  into  Holly- 
wood occasionally  to  present  movie  stars  like  Clark  Gable 
or  Ginger  Rogers,  who  made  their  bows  with  "Hello, 
Everybody!"  followed  by  a  few  minutes  of  chit-chat.  No 


one  dreamed  of  casting  a  movie  star  in  a  preview  or  a  post 
view  of  a  movie  play. 

When  MGM  finally  became  convinced  that  the  tabloid 
dramatic  presentation  of  their  film  stories  would  be  an 
important  means  of  building  up  box-office  patronage,  the 
stars  of  the  cinema  were  enlisted,  and  radio  drama  began 
to  emanate  from  Hollywood.  Many  sponsors  sought  MGM, 
Ford  Motor  Cars,  Palmolive,  Socony  Vacuum,  Lucky  Strike. 

Louella  Parsons  had  already  introduced  the  system  ot 
getting  movie  stars  to  exploit  scenes  from  their  new  produc- 
tions without  pay.  As  the  first  newspaperwoman  to  devote 
herself  exclusively  to  movie  gossip,  she  used  to  "invite"  the 
stars  to  be  interviewed  before  the  microphone.  Few  refused 
the  proffer  of  publicity  which  she  controlled  though  many 
grumbled  at  being  asked  to  perform  for  nothing. 

The  drama  productions  of  "Hollywood  Hotel"  were 
heralded  in  1933  as  great  contributions  to  the  radio  arts. 
In  effect,  they  were  capsuled  versions  of  the  latest  motion 
pictures,  heavily  incrusted  with  plugs  for  the  sponsor.  Their 
popularity  was  proved  by  the  increase  of  the  sponsor's  sales 
by  thirty  million  dollars  in  the  two  and  one-half  years  that 
William  Bacher  took  over  their  direction. 

After  four  and  a  half  years  on  the  air,  "Hollywood  Hotel" 
passed  into  oblivion  and  gave  way  to  Orson  Welles'  "Mer- 
cury Theatre  of  the  Air."  A  change  in  method  has  been 
going  on  gradually.  "Hollywood  Hotel"  made  its  first  switch 
by  dropping  previews  in  favor  of  completed  stories,  on  that 
part  of  the  program  known  as  "Campbell  Playhouse." 
Welles'  choice  of  plays  was  distinctly  modern,  with  plenty 
of  romantic  interest,  nothing  of  the  thriller  or  intellectual 

The  largest  part  of  Hollywood's  air  policy  has  been  to 
present  scenes  from  forthcoming  pictures.  The  Lux  Radio 
Theatre,  with  the  producers  of  "Seventh  Heaven"  starring 
Miriam  Hopkins  and  John  Boles,  began  its  Hollywood  cycle 

104  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

under  the  advertised  direction  of  Cecil  B.  De  Mille  in  1938. 
There  were  hopes  that  the  master  producer  of  movie  drama 
might  infuse  radio  drama  with  new  impulses  and  tech- 
niques. No  such  miracle  happened.  De  Mille  merely  lent  the 
aura  of  his  name.  The  actual  producer  of  these  productions 
was  Frank  Woodruff  who,  with  a  passion  for  detail,  did  what 
was  possible  with  telescoped  drama. 

The  De  Mille  plays  follow  the  familiar  formula:  A  nar- 
rator, who  sets  the  scene,  a  movie  drama  cut  into  three 
"acts"  to  fit  the  time  limits,  the  usual  complement  of  sound 
effects,  the  trick  of  recalling  the  feature  players  to  prattle 
about  the  product,  the  commercials  that  clutter  up  the  kilo- 
cycles between  the  acts. 

The  era  of  Hollywood  drama  has  established  certain  prin- 
ciples in  the  creation  and  in  the  acting  of  scripts  which  seem 
germane  to  the  methods  of  the  movie.  Movie  scripts  within 
the  conventional  formula  are  more  easily  adapted  to  radio 
than  a  stage  play.  The  scenes  of  the  movie  scripts  are  shorter, 
changes  in  locale  more  frequent  and  the  pace  more  varied. 
The  film  scenario  offers  a  simple  task  for  radio  adaptation. 

Hollywood  movie  plays  converted  to  radio,  however, 
suffer  from  compression.  The  Lux  Radio  Theatre  uses  forty- 
three  minutes  for  the  play  and  gives  over  the  rest  of  the 
hour  to  the  ingratiating  and  pompous  between-the-acts 
effusions  of  De  Mille,  curtain  speeches  and  plugs  for  the 
sponsor.  The  effect  upon  the  listener  is  that  of  receiving  a 
slice  of  the  pie  instead  of  the  whole  pie.  Intelligent  listeners 
are  tantalized  not  only  by  the  snippy  excerpts  from  movie 
stories,  but  by  the  glorified  plugs  for  the  pictures. 

The  myth  that  Hollywood  could  produce  bigger  and 
better  drama  than  the  East  has  been  exploded.  The  problem 
involves  not  geographical  locale  but,  rather,  good  plays 
technically  constructed  for  radio  and  competent  production. 
Vigorous,  powerful  and  brilliant  drama  can  be  built  up  and 
produced  in  California  just  as  it  can  in  New  York.  In  spite 


of  all  propaganda  about  the  advantages  of  Hollywood,  radio 
drama  coming  from  Hollywood  and  New  York  sound  about 
the  same  as  they  emerge  from  the  loud  speaker. 

Whatever  virtues  Hollywood  drama  may  have,  it  has  also 
served  to  show  how  radio  drama  should  not  be  produced. 
Hollywood  can  not  point  with  pride  to  many  of  its  tabloid 
radio  dramas  undone  by  actor,  producer  and  writer  un- 
familiar with  the  demands  of  the  microphone.  When 
producers  insist  on  certain  stars  who,  because  of  other 
assignments,  can  not  be  present  at  rehearsals,  the  results  are 
bound  to  be  sloppy  and  inadequate.  Hollywood  drama  often 
has  the  earmarks  of  a  hurry-up  job. 

The  networks  have  attempted  to  build  up  the  personality 
of  radio  performers  to  such  an  extent  that  when  they  do 
appear  on  the  screen  they  will  find  an  audience  that  is 
thoroughly  familiar  with  their  personalities  as  disclosed  by 
voice  alone.  What  sounds  good  on  the  air  can  be  made  to 
sound  better  when  cameraized.  For  some  reason,  however, 
Amos  'n  Andy  never  fared  well  in  pictures.  Their  first 
experiment  was  not  repeated. 

A  picture  version  of  a  successful  serial  story  thrives  upon 
an  established  radio  audience  that  is  already  familiar  with 
the  setting,  the  characterization,  and  the  plot  of  the  story. 
Radio  brought  to  the  pictures  "One  Man's  Family"  and 
"Hollywood  Hotel."  The  time  may  come  when  it  will  be 
necessary  to  develop  players  who  are  not  steeped  in  the 
Hollywood  tradition. 

The  roster  of  actors  on  Hollywood  programs  consists 
almost  entirely  of  pure  movie  names.  Hollywood  drama  has 
fostered  the  star  system.  The  radio  actor  is  assauged  by  the 
hope:  "Don't  cry!  You  may  be  a  Don  Ameche  by  and  by!" 
With  a  start  at  the  radio  helm,  sponsors  feel  more  secure 
about  their  advertising  investment.  A  twenty-four  carat 
movie-name  eliminates  the  sponsor's  difficult  task  of  develop- 
ing stars  of  his  own.  Clark  Gable,  for  example,  may  come 

106  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

high,  but  he  involves  no  gamble.  On  the  air  the  movie  star 
has  an  immeasurable  advantage  over  the  player  whose  fea- 
tures and  temperament  and  type  are  unknown  to  the  listen- 
ers. Hollywood  glamour  remains  irresistible  to  the  radio  fan. 
Listeners  have  already  been  touched  by  the  glamour  and 
the  romance  of  their  favorite  Hollywood  stars  in  their  screen 

When  sponsors  began  to  ask  for  big  names,  salaries  began 
to  soar  to  fantastic  levels.  The  price  war  was  on  when  Danny 
Danker  of  the  J.  Walter  Thompson  Agency  went  to  Holly- 
wood to  put  on  shows  for  Lux  Theatre.  Picture  people  who 
had  been  previously  cajoled  to  work  for  nothing  were 
amazed  to  be  offered  a  salary.  Hollywood  Hotel  ran  up  a 
total  talent  bill  of  seventeen  thousand  dollars.  Several  pro- 
grams ran  as  high  as  thirty  thousand  dollars  a  week.  In 
1938,  some  six  hundred  film  actors  took  in  five  thousand 
dollars  average  for  radio  work.  It  must  be  remembered,  by 
way  of  comparison,  that  hardly  one  of  the  hits  current  on 
the  Broadway  stage  cost  as  much  as  a  single  half-hour  pro- 
gram in  radio's  high  brackets. 

The  Hollywood  motion  picture  talent  market  for  radio 
has  something  of  a  scale  of  prices  for  various  classes  of 
players,  from  three  hundred  and  fifty  dollars  up.  For  in- 
stance, the  "asking"  price  for  a  single  radio  performance 
is  three  thousand  five  hundred  dollars  for  Joan  Crawford, 
Claudette  Colbert,  Jeanette  MacDonald,  Lily  Pons,  Frances 
Langford  and  Ginger  Rogers.  About  two  thousand  five  hun- 
dred dollars  is  asked  for  Jack  Oakie,  Lionel  Barryraore, 
George  Raft,  Edward  Arnold  and  Herbert  Marshall.  Ann 
Sothern,  Alice  Faye  and  Zasu  Pitts  may  be  had  for  one  thou- 
sand five  hundred  dollars,  while  Joel  McCrea,  Jane  Withers, 
Edmund  Lowe,  Pat  O'Brien,  Barbara  Stanwyck,  Fred 
MacMurray  and  Victor  McLaglen  demand  one  thousand 
dollars  per  air  show.  Such  luminaries  as  Grace  Moore,  John 
Barrymore  and  Fredric  March  command  higher  fees. 


The  employment  of  Hollywod  stars  has  been  estimated  to 
have  added  ten  per  cent  to  the  cost  of  radio  talent,  bringing 
up  the  talent  charges  for  the  average  national  network  pro- 
gram to  forty  per  cent  of  the  program's  production  costs. 

There  are  signs  that  the  picture  star  in  radio  is  regarded 
by  the  listener  more  critically  than  on  the  screen.  Sponsors 
have  discovered  that  it  takes  more  than  a  glamorous  name 
to  make  people  listen.  "Star  studding"  of  a  program  is  no 
substitute  for  sloppily  produced  plays.  Surveys  have  shown 
that  many  listeners  decide  not  to  see  a  picture  because  they 
were  not  impressed  by  its  broadcast  version  or  by  the  efforts 
of  the  star  before  the  microphone.  Hence,  there  is  a  genuine 
danger  to  the  box  office  if  a  scene  from  a  current  picture  is 
badly  handled  on  the  air. 

Many  "guests"  from  the  screen  often  fail  dismally  in  the 
interpretation  of  their  lines.  The  fault  may  lie  in  inadequate 
preparation  and  the  nature  and  quality  of  the  dialogue.  The 
microphone  performance  of  Marion  Davies  and  Joel  McCrea 
in  "The  Brat"  suffered  from  a  stumbling  rendition  that  had 
no  semblance  of  art. 

Norma  Shearer's  performance  in  "Marie  Antoinette"  was 
nothing  like  her  screen  work.  She  gave  the  script  a  light 
once-over  on  the  Thursday  before  going  on  the  air,  and 
failed  to  rehearse  with  the  cast  the  night  before  the  pro- 
gram. Lack  of  rehearsal  failed  to  give  the  radio  producer 
accurate  timing  of  the  script,  and  caused  the  program  to  be 
cut  by  NBC  when  it  ran  overtime. 

Recent  developments  indicate  that  the  film  industry  is 
beginning  to  change  its  policies  with  regard  to  radio.  The 
producers  do  not  wish  to  lose  control  over  their  featured 
players.  They  established  a  "secret"  committee  of  production 
experts  on  the  Coast  to  observe  the  stars'  radio  activities.  It 
was  supposed  to  "regulate"  them,  in  principle  at  least. 
Twentieth  Century  Fox  proposed  in  February,  1939,  to 
buy  back  the  radio  contracts  of  certain  of  its  stars. 

108  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

The  star  is  now  tied  up  by  the  clauses  in  his  contract  that 
reserve  to  the  film  producers  radio  and  television  rights. 
In  addition,  the  practice  of  certain  film  companies  is  to  put 
on  their  own  radio  programs  and,  under  special  contracts, 
the  star  is  no  longer  made  available  for  other  sponsors. 

Paramount  has  a  distinct  leaning  toward  radio  because 
its  stars  originally  came  from  that  media,  among  them  being 
Burns  and  Allen,  Jack  Benny,  Bing  Crosby,  Bob  Hope, 
Martha  Raye,  Bob  Burns  and  Dorothy  Lamour. 

Variety  recently  reported  that  for  every  star  subject  to 
anti-radio  pressure  from  the  film  studios,  the  advertising 
agencies  can  turn  to  dozens  who  are  free  agents  either 
because  of  the  terms  of  their  film  contracts  or  because  of 
their  free  lance  standard. 

A  big  star  such  as  Edward  G.  Robinson  can  strike  out  for 
himself  unfettered.  Robinson  had  no  radio  clauses  in  his 
contract  and  went  on  the  air  in  spite  of  the  disapproval  of 
Warner  Brothers.  The  success  of  his  new  program,  "Big 
Sister,"  put  new  life  into  the  waning  Hollywood-Radio 
relationship,  and  was  mainly  responsible  for  his  big  salary 
jump  for  pictures  he  made  for  producers  other  than  Warner 
Brothers.  He  used  to  get  forty  thousand  dollars  per  picture, 
and  now  it  is  a  minimum  of  one  hundred  thousand  dollars. 
Now  he  gets  five  thousand  five  hundred  for  each  radio  pro- 
gram, and  this  is  radio's  top  for  dramatic  stars. 

The  Future  of  Radio  Dramas 

The  networks  may  pride  themselves  on  some  notable 
drama  achievements.  Several  historical  cycles  have  been 
done  with  great  art  and  distinction,  but  drama  still  remains 
in  its  experimental  stage,  and  even  though  the  stage  took 
thousands  of  years  to  reach  its  present  form,  it  is  hoped 
that  radio  may  round  out  for  itself  perfected  norms  and 


It  is  generally  known  that  intelligent  listeners  regard 
with  abhorrence  the  general  run  of  radio  plays.  Most  of 
these  are  poorly  written  affairs,  hastily  slapped  together  by 
inexperienced  writers  and  given  haphazard  production.  The 
average  radio  play  seldom  departs  from  a  slush  formula. 

Signs  are  that  the  radio  audience  is  slowly  being  educated 
to  appreciate  good  drama.  America  is  going  through  the 
same  experience  as  England  in  this  business  of  weaning 
away  the  listener  from  competitive  programs.  Val  Gielgud, 
the  dramatic  director  of  BBC,  calls  attention  to  the  changing 
attitude  of  the  public:  "In  England  about  1930,  radio  drama 
was  regarded  with  a  mixture  of  contempt  and  faint  amuse- 
ment by  press  and  public  alike.  At  best  it  was  regarded  as 
a  dismal  pis  aller  for  the  benefit  of  people  who  were  unable 
to  go  to  the  theater  owing  to  the  factors  of  distance  and 
expense.  It  soon  became  clear  that  the  main  obstacle  to  be 
surmounted  was  the  unfamiliarity  of  the  medium  to  the 
average  listener." 

American  audiences,  at  first  attracted  by  big  names,  will 
some  time  come  to  insist  on  good  plays.  The  broadcasting 
of  plays  is  beginning  to  grow  in  authority  and  public  in- 
terest, and  just  as  the  BBC  is  regarded  as  the  National 
Theatre  of  Great  Britain,  so  our  big  network  systems  can 
satisfy  the  public  convenience  and  necessity  by  providing 
listeners  with  a  national  theater  of  the  United  States. 

Important  impetus  can  be  given  to  the  radio  drama  move- 
ment by  drama  guilds  operating  in  separate  communities, 
affording  both  the  writer  and  the  actor  a  field  for  presenta- 
tion of  original  or  adapted  works.  Orson  Welles  had  this 
idea  in  mind  when  he  said:  "I  think  it  is  time  that  radio 
came  to  realize  that  no  matter  how  wonderful  a  play  may 
be  for  the  stage  it  cannot  be  as  wonderful  for  the  air.  We 
plan  to  bring  to  radio  the  experimental  techniques  which 
have  proved  so  successful  in  another  medium,  and  to  treat 

110  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

radio  itself  with  the  intelligence  and  respect  which  such 
a  beautiful  and  powerful  medium  deserves." 

Radio  has  been  charged  with  being  voracious  with  its 
material.  A  program  is  produced  once  and  probably  never 
again.  Music  is  the  exception.  There  is  no  doubt  that  great 
plays  can  be  done  over  and  over  again  with  success.  Radio 
can  build  up  a  repertory  of  classic  and  popular  drama  that 
would  vie  with  music  in  appeal.  The  radio  audience  at  the 
present  time  is  not  a  theater  audience,  but  once  the  ardor 
catches  on,  radio  will  be  way  ahead  of  the  stage. 

Gilbert  Seldes  called  attention  to  the  fact  that  radio  has 
now  only  one  backlog — the  repertory  of  musical  classics. 
Adding  a  second,  in  the  repertory  of  classic  drama,  he  claims 
would  give  radio  drama  a  solidity  which  it  requires.  "Great 
plays,"  wrote  Seldes,  "can  be  played  over  and  over  again 
with  great  success.  Shakespeare  can  be  made  a  permanent 
feature  of  broadcasting  if  new  players  are  cast  in  the  prin- 
cipal roles."  And  Heaven  knows  America  has  a  plentiful 
crop  of  new  players. 

In  the  experimental  dramas  instituted  by  CBS  Work- 
shop under  the  direction  of  Irving  Reis,  a  new  impulse 
was  given  to  radio  drama.  Here  was  a  pioneer,  an  engineer 
experimenting  with  sound  and  voice  able  to  create  new 
effects  in  composition.  The  Workshop  first  came  into  promi- 
nence when  Reis  produced  his  own  "St.  Louis  Blues"  in 
1934.  The  play  deals  with  the  reaction  of  various  people  to 
the  wailing  of  the  saxophones.  It  scored  a  smart  hit  and  won 
Reis  recognition.  It  has  been  done  eight  times  in  this  and 
other  countries,  and  it  should  be  done  once  a  year,  just  as 
a  lesson  to  production  men  throughout  the  country. 

Reis's  next  offering  was  "Meridian  7-1212,"  the  number 
dialed  by  New  Yorkers  who  desire  to  know  the  time  of  day 
or  night.  The  drama  written  around  it  was  a  thriller,  the 
climax  coming  when  the  operator  on  duty  announced  mid- 
night. Her  brother  went  to  the  electric  chair  at  midnight. 


You  can  imagine  the  gripping  finale  as  the  girl  told  the  time 
and  collapsed. 

Radio  has  the  power  to  shift  scenery  in  the  twinkling  of 
an  eye.  In  "Meridian  7-1212"  the  author  deals  with  dramatic 
material  essentially  suited  to  microphone  production.  The 
plot  concerns  the  editor  of  the  paper  who  is  in  desperate 
need  of  a  story.  He  sends  a  reporter  to  see  if  there  is  any 
human  interest  stuff  in  the  lives  of  the  telephone  girls  who 
give  the  exact  time.  The  listener  is  shown,  in  a  number  of 
powerful  flash-backs,  how  important  the  exact  time  may  be 
in  the  lives  of  people.  The  protagonist  is  the  telephone 
operator  in  the  Meridian  exchange  who  has  a  brother  in  the 
death  house  at  Sing  Sing.  At  midnight  he  is  to  be  executed. 
She  watches  the  big  clock.  She  continues  to  announce  the 
time.  The  climatic  moment  arrives.  Her  nerve  bears  with 
her  while  she  utters,  "When  you  hear  the  signal  it  will  be 
exactly  twelve  o'clock."  Then  follows  a  dull  thud,  the  tele- 
phone girl  has  collapsed.  The  futility  and  irony  of  the 
drama  is  concentrated  in  the  report  of  the  reporter  to  his 
editor,  "The  only  people  who  call  Meridian  7-1212  are  those 
whose  watches  have  stopped,  or  those  who  are  too  lazy  to 
go  into  the  next  room  to  find  the  time." 

"Radio  drama  is  still  hackneyed,"  Reis  told  the  writer 
in  an  interview.  "After  a  long  period  of  continuous  listen- 
ing for  my  log  engineering  sheet,  I  realized  that  the  script 
authors  were  not  taking  full  advantage  of  the  medium  of 
radio.  It  is  possible  that  they  were  more  concerned  with  the 
way  their  scripts  looked  on  paper  than  they  would  sound 
over  the  air.  But  it's  the  ear  and  mind  that  the  programs  had 
to  be  written  for,  and  that's  one  fact  I  always  remembered." 

Sound  effects  have  played  important  parts  in  all  of  Reis's 
radio  creations.  He  terms  them  as  important,  if  not  more 
important,  in  some  cases,  than  the  actors.  But  when  Reis 
speaks  of  sound  effects,  he  doesn't  mean  the  usual  type  of 
background  noise,  to  wit,  horses,  hoofbeats,  automobile 

112  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

horns,  pistol  shots,  etc.  He  means  such  abstract  sounds  as  a 
single  cello  note  or  an  electric  oscillator  hum,  changing  in 
pitch  and  tone  along  with  the  dramatic  action.  In  addition 
to  cello  and  oscillator  background,  the  young  engineer- 
author  has  used  other  abstract  sound  effects,  notably  human 

"I  haven't  perfected  radio  drama  by  a  long  shot/'  Reis 
remarked.  "There's  still  plenty  of  room  for  improvement 
and  I  expect  to  do  much  experimenting." 

The  new  director  of  the  Workshop,  William  N.  Robson, 
hopes  to  broaden  and  deepen  popular  appreciation  of  the 
theater,  and  hopes  in  particular  to  elevate  the  standards  of 
radio  drama — about  which,  from  time  to  time,  there  have 
been  cries  of  despair  both  from  critics  and  from  listeners. 

Directing  the  Play 

The  ideal  director  of  a  radio  drama  should  be  a  master 
mind.  "A  director,"  said  Margaret  Webster,  "needs  just 
about  everything."  The  earlier  radio  productions  were 
thrown  together  by  amateurs  in  directing  without  regard  to 
the  limitations  imposed  by  the  microphone. 

The  function  of  the  director  of  radio  drama  is  first  of 
all  to  understand  the  meaning  and  methods  and  message 
of  the  play.  He  senses  the  mood  of  the  script,  in  terms  of  the 
spoken  word.  The  director  then  searches  for  a  suitable  cast. 
Upon  his  judgment  will  depend  the  total  effect  in  voice 
characterization  without  benefit  of  the  eye.  A  play  that  is 
miscast  in  voice  had  better  not  be  done  at  all.  Vocal  inter- 
pretation must  show  plausibility,  be  it  the  voice  of  the 
grandfather,  the  child,  or  the  lover.  When  the  voice  goes 
far  off  the  mark,  the  listener  grows  incredulous  and  blots 
the  actor  off  the  air  as  an  impostor. 

The  director  chooses  his  actors  with  an  ear  to  specific 
tonal  effects  in  voice.  Players  are  selected  whose  pitch  range 


fits  the  scheme  of  the  character.  Irving  Reis  showed 
extraordinary  judgment  in  selecting  actors  whose  voices  were 
flexible  enough  to  lend  themselves  to  experiments  in  tone. 
"In  radio,"  he  declared,  "we  now  cast  the  roles  as  an 
orchestrator  of  music  selects  certain  instruments  to  obtain 
a  particular  emotion.  We  have  even  experimented  upon 
the  similarity  of  certain  voice  qualities  to  musical  qualities 
and  found  they  could  be  made  much  alike." 

Air  directing,  Mr.  Stanford  has  found,  comes  straight  back 
to  the  theater.  Timing,  pacing,  tempo,  showmanship,  all 
have  the  same  relationship  to  producing  a  good  show  that 
they  have  on  Broadway.  His  first  care  has  been  to  throw 
microphone  tradition  out  of  the  window  and  make  his  actors 
feel  comfortable  and  authentic  in  their  characterizations. 
Wallace  Beery  played  "The  Old  Soak"  with  his  shirt  open 
at  the  neck  and  his  suspenders  hanging  down.  Paul  Muni 
had  a  coat  rack  put  beside  the  microphone  so  that  he  could 
actually  grab  his  coat,  jam  on  his  hat,  and  rush  away  in 
"Counsellor-at-Law."  Mr.  Stanford,  when  it  is  possible,  al- 
ways has  his  players  do  their  own  doors,  having  learned  from 
long  experience  in  the  theater  that  sometimes  the  way  a  door 
is  closed  can  make  a  telling  dramatic  climax. 

Walter  Huston  thought  all  the  fuss  was  a  little  unneces- 
sary. But  when  he  did  "The  Minuet,"  as  blank  a  bit  of 
elocution  as  ever  went  over  the  air,  on  the  Vallee  hour  a  few 
weeks  later  without  rehearsal,  he  had  to  admit  that  the  Lux 
people  were  right. 

Next  comes  the  rehearsal.  A  director's  hardest  work  comes 
at  rehearsals.  A  successful  play  must  have  enough  rehearsal 
time  to  make  a  finished  production  and  not  a  script-reading. 
Inadequate  preparation  has  killed  off  many  dramas  on  the 
air.  It  is  an  easy  temptation  to  cut  down  rehearsals  since 
the  play  never  goes  on  for  over  an  hour,  rarely  to  be 

Producers  are  slowly  realizing  that  a  radio  play  demands 

114  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

just  as  much  consistent  rehearsal  as  does  a  stage  production. 
Indeed,  it  takes  much  more  practice  and  patience  to  coordi- 
nate the  actors  in  an  air  drama.  Leading  stars  of  the  theater, 
anxious  to  retain  their  reputations  on  the  air,  seriously 
devoted  themselves  to  rehearsal.  Even  though  Jane  Cowl 
had  appeared  before  the  footlights  over  a  thousand  times 
in  "Smilin'  Thru"  she  spent  two  solid  weeks  rehearsing  her 
part,  prior  to  her  microphone  debut.  Some  actresses  throw 
themselves  just  as  strenuously  into  rehearsal  as  for  the  final 
performance.  During  rehearsal  Elsie  Ferguson  wept  bitterly 
while  enacting  the  pathetic  roles  of  "Madame  X"  and 
"Camille,"  affecting  her  fellow-performers  in  the  same  way. 

It  takes  more  than  a  stop-watch  and  familiarity  with 
studio  routine  to  make  a  dramatic  director.  Many  directors 
lack  the  necessary  background  of  the  theater.  The  Lux 
Radio  Theatre  always  employed  professional  directors.  It 
was  the  custom  of  Mr.  Stanford,  the  director,  to  give  out 
his  scripts  on  Monday,  work  for  five  hours  at  his  task  of 
getting  the  play  jellied.  He  rehearsed  on  Wednesday  and 
Thursday.  On  Friday,  he  held  the  first  dress  rehearsal.  On 
Saturday,  the  cast  rested.  On  Sunday,  everybody  was  in  the 
studio  by  eleven  and  worked  right  on  until  two.  The  show 
went  on  at  two-thirty. 

The  director's  prime  requisite  is  an  ability  to  listen,  to  im- 
bue the  play  with  its  finest  personal  element,  to  make  mere 
sound  emerge  as  the  spiritual  embodiment  of  the  author. 
After  repeated  criticism  and  rehearsal,  instead  of  an  empty 
reading,  the  production  will  be  filled  with  the  breath  of 
life.  Long  hours  of  rehearsal  are  behind  broadcasts  such  as 
"The  Fall  of  the  City."  To  achieve  the  proper  sound  effects, 
the  program  was  staged  in  the  Seventh  Regiment  Armory 
in  New  York.  Its  vast  drill  area  made  possible  acoustical 
effects  that  approximated  the  square  of  a  big  city  in  tumult. 
Four  microphones  were  placed  to  get  the  right  balance,  and 
the  echoes  of  a  mob  of  one  hundred  and  fifty  added  to  the 


realistic  effect.  A  simple  trick  of  engineering  was  used  to 
augment  the  noise  of  the  crowd.  During  the  rehearsal  the 
crowd  noises  of  one  hundred  and  fifty  participants  were 
recorded,  to  be  reproduced  during  the  actual  performance 
through  loud  speakers  at  each  end  of  the  Armory.  Such  a 
device  gave  the  effect  of  depth  because  of  the  lapse  of  a 
fraction  of  a  second  between  the  recorded  voices  and  the 
actual  voices  of  the  shouting  mob. 

Dr.  William  Bacher  (D.D.S.,  L.L.D.,  M.A)  formerly  prac- 
ticing dentist  of  Bayonne,  New  Jersey,  began  his  producing 
career  by  accident.  He  attracted  attention  by  his  sharp 
criticisms  of  programs  produced  and  was  given  a  chance  to 
do  better.  As  the  director  of  "Hollywood  Hotel,"  he  was  a 
continually  erupting  volcano  of  energy  and  temperament. 
He  occupied  a  low  stand  during  a  broadcast  and  directed 
his  players  as  a  conductor  leads  a  symphony.  Such  earnest- 
ness stimulates  the  actor. 

Bacher  gestured  frantically  for  sound  effects,  pleaded  by 
the  movement  of  his  hands  for  more  emotion  from  the  actors 
during  a  dramatic  scene,  crouched,  spun  upright,  and  dis- 
played an  earnestness  that  would  do  justice  to  a  Toscanini. 
His  discipline  was  exact  so  that  when  his  clenched  fists 
struck  the  air  the  knocking  by  the  sound-effects  assistant  was 
exactly  synchronized. 

The  practical  work  of  a  producer  makes  his  radio  fac- 
totum. His  duties  are  manifold. 

1.  He  co-ordinates  the  actors  and  exercises  executive  con- 
trol in  the  studio. 

2.  He  makes  changes  and  deletions  in  the  script  to  fit  and 
discover  fresh  qualities  in  the  text  to  meet  time  schedules. 

3.  He   suggests   microphone   techniques   and   placements 
best  for  each  actor. 

4.  He  balances  music  and  sound  effects  to  the  best  ad- 

Il6  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

5.  He  cooperates  with  the  control  engineer  during  re- 
hearsal over  the  monitor  speaker  in  the  control  room. 

6.  He  gives  clues  to  the  announcer,  cast,  sound  man  and 
orchestra  leader. 

One  has  but  to  attend  a  rehearsal  to  catch  the  important 
phases  of  direction.  Such  a  picture  is  furnished  by  Martin 
Gosch,  Assistant  Director  of  the  Columbia  Workshop.  In 
a  personal  interview  with  Alton  Cook  he  confides:  "In  this 
play  it  took  much  longer,  with  a  blend  of  sound  effects, 
music  and  voices.  We  spent  an  hour  and  thirty-five  minutes 
for  all  the  rest  of  the  play,  and  out  of  that  time  had  to  come 
a  half  hour  for  dress  rehearsal." 

Until  dress  rehearsal  is  over  the  director  is  never  sure 
whether  the  play  is  going  to  run  the  exact  twenty-nine 
minutes  and  forty-five  seconds  allotted.  Radio  permits  no 
deviation  either  way.  The  situation  is  handled  (by  Gosch) 
in  this  way.  "There  have  been  times  when,  ten  minutes 
before  broadcast,  we  had  to  cut  two  and  a  half  minutes  out 
of  the  script,  a  few  seconds  from  one  scene,  a  half  minute 
from  another,  and  so  on,  always  being  careful  to  cut  around 
the  lines  vital  to  the  action." 


GLOOMILY  it  was  predicted  ten  years  ago  that  the 
broadcasting  of  jazz  would  corrupt  the  public  taste 
and  that  good  music  would  be  abolished  from  the  earth. 
Good  music  has  an  immortality  and  the  electrical  arts  could 
only  perpetuate  proving  that  it  takes  all  kinds  of  minds  and 
all  kinds  of  people  to  make  a  world.  The  truth  is  that 
musicians  have  completely  captured  radio  and  stimulated 
popular  response  to  good  music  undreamed  of  in  this 

Samuel  Chotzinoff  pays  acclaim  to  the  popular  school  of 
music.  "I  happen  to  know  my  Stravinsky,  Berg,  Sessions 
et  al  and  I  know,  also,  Kern,  Rodgers,  Berlin,  Gershwin,  et 
al  and  while  it  may  be  said  with  truth  that  they  are  sepa- 
rated by  a  gulf,  as  I  see  it,  that  gulf  is  the  void  between 
sterility  and  inspiration.  It  happens  to  be  a  caprice  of  nature 
at  the  moment,  that  our  serious  composers  are  sterile,  and 
our  Tin  Pan  Alley  songsters  fecund." 

Elie  Siegmeister,  the  music  critic,  wonders  who  is  to 
determine  what  is  "good"  and  what  is  "bad"  music,  and 
furthermore,  the  question  arises,  "good  for  what?"  To  some, 
the  music  of  Stravinsky  (or  Shostakovich  or  Schonberg  or 
Gershwin)  is  stimulating,  vivid,  challenging,  "good,"  be- 
cause it  reflects  the  forces  of  contemporary  life;  to  others 
it  is  discordant,  ugly  and  depressing. 

The  infiltration  of  music  culture  was  hastened  beyond 
wildest  dreams  by  the  advent  of  phonograph  and  radio. 
Through  these  devices  millions  of  people  were  exposed  to 
symphonies  for  the  first  time.  The  trouble  was  that  they  were 
supposed  to  take  them  and  like  them.  Or  else,  to  pretend. 


Il8  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

If  a  man  expressed  an  honest  preference  for  "Dinah"  or 
"Star  Dust"  and  not  for  Tschaikowsky's  Fifth,  he  was  classi- 
fied as  hopelessly  lowbrow.  So  two  camps  arose — the  low- 
brows and  the  highbrows. 

There  is  no  definite  measuring  scale  by  which  to  deter- 
mine how  many  people  want  jazz  music  and  how  many 
prefer  the  higher  forms.  But  it  is  certain  that  there  is  a 
vast  audience  for  both  types  of  music  and  the  lover  of  the 
symphony  may  turn  to  jazz  for  comfort  depending  on  the 
time,  the  mood  and  the  variety  of  personal  adjustment. 

It  was  a  source  of  immense  satisfaction  to  the  great  musi- 
cal critic,  Lawrence  Gilman,  that  within  "the  last  decade  or 
so,  the  average  man  has  discovered  chiefly  through  the 
agency  of  phonographs  and  radio  broadcasts  that  the  art  of 
music  is  not  the  province  of  a  few  incomprehensible  special- 
ists, but  a  vast  and  boundless  continent  of  the  mind,  inex- 
haustible in  its  richness  for  the  spirit." 

The  masses  were  denied  the  music  of  the  masters  and 
barred  from  participation  in  its  beauties  until  radio  sud- 
denly swept  away  the  barriers  and  admitted  all  the  people 
to  the  charmed  circle.  In  the  early  days  many  artists  were 
afraid  to  broadcast.  They  were  not  sure  that  the  microphone 
would  do  justice  to  their  tonalities.  Today  there  are  only  a 
few  of  the  notable  artists  who  have  never  broadcast.  These 
include  Rachmaninoff  and  Kreisler.  Radio  broke  down  cer- 
tain theories.  First  was  that  mass  audiences  were  fatigued  by 
long  pieces  like  symphonies.  Today  some  of  the  broadcasts 
which  present  great  music  unabridged  are  the  most  popular 
programs.  Second,  the  notion  that  unsophisticated  listeners 
disliked  modern  music.  John  Barbirelli,  conductor  of  the 
Philharmonic  Symphony,  said  at  a  recent  meeting  of  the 
Contemporary  Club  of  Philadelphia,  "I  am  inclined  to  think 
that  prejudice  against  a  certain  musical  idiom  is  occasioned 
by  having  been  brought  up  as  a  child  on  too  restricted  a 
musical  diet,  and  that  the  radio  public  knows  its  own  tastes 

MUSIC  lig 

very  well  merely  because  it  has  been  allowed  to  sample 
scores  of  all  periods  without  undue  emphasis  on  any  one 

"The  delight  in  sharing  an  artistic  experience  with  hun- 
dreds of  thousands  of  other  listeners  who  are  present  and 
who  applaud  with  you  cannot  be  replaced  by  a  private  reac- 
tion detached  from  a  gregarious  occasion."  And  this  after 
a  study  of  twenty-five  thousand  letters  received  by  the  Phil- 
harmonic in  one  year. 


The  band  leader,  Al  Goodman,  calls  this  the  "Age  of 
Arrangement,"  "We  are  living,"  says  he,  "in  an  arrangement 
age,  musically  speaking,  because  people  are  no  different  to- 
day than  a  generation  ago  in  their  love  of  melody.  They 
want  melody  and  they  want  it  so  presented  that  they  can 
recognize  it." 

Arranging  means  taking  the  theme  and  making  a  musical 
production  of  it — creating  introductions  and  perhaps  codes 
and  so  on.  Orchestrating  means  the  making  of  orchestral 
versions  for  a  given  tune. 

Music  of  the  older  masters  does  not  have  to  be  adapted 
for  radio.  There  is  no  need  for  adaptation.  The  music  is 
well  orchestrated  and  should  be  played  as  written. 

Bandmasters  are  compelled  to  create  new  arrangements. 
They  must  insert  new  harmony  here,  a  new  rhythm  there, 
shift  the  chorus  from  the  trombone  to  the  saxophone  or 
from  the  saxophone  to  the  trumpet.  The  purpose  of  arrange- 
ment is  to  get  a  "zip"  to  music  that  identifies  it,  whether 
Dvorak  or  Schubert  as  a  conductor.  When  a  radio  maestro 
wants  plenty  of  flash  and  feeling  in  his  music,  he  tells  his 
men  to  play  with  more  "Schmalz."  The  term  is  a  by-word 
among  musicians.  According  to  Benny  Goodman  it  comes 
from  an  ingenious  old-time  arranger,  named  Schmalz. 

120  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

Staff  and  independent  arrangers  are  a  vital  adjunct  to 
every  band  leader.  It  is  not  unusual  for  a  top  band  to  pay 
out  one  thousand  dollars  a  week  for  special  arrangements. 
Paul  Whiteman  is  lavish  in  this  respect,  employing  a  chief 
arranger  on  a  straight  salary  of  five  hundred  dollars  a  week. 
His  total  expenditures  for  arrangements  over  a  period  of 
twenty  years  are  said  to  amount  to  over  a  million  dollars. 

Arrangements  are  the  order  of  the  day.  Al  Goodman 
asserts  that  arrangements  are  almost  seventy-five  per  cent 
responsible  for  the  success  of  an  orchestra.  The  arranger  is 
master  of  the  art  of  counterpoint,  and  counterpoint,  he 
explains,  consists  of  playing  different  melodies  simul- 
taneously on  an  orchestration  or  arrangement.  ''Radio  is 
full  of  arrangers,"  said  Goodman,  "who  write  counterpoint 
without  ever  having  studied  it.  It's  instinctive  with  them, 
and  they  get  some  effects  that  your  serious  European 
musicians  envy." 

Ferde  Groffe  was  probably  the  first  to  make  arrangements 
for  a  jazz  band.  In  1925  he  was  working  with  a  band  in 
San  Francisco,  and  he  attempted  to  revise  the  impromptu 
style  of  the  band  into  a  fixed  creation  of  his  own.  His  efforts 
have  been  termed  "musical  sauce  a  la  Groffe." 

Paul  Whiteman,  ushered  in  a  kind  of  renaissance  in 
orchestrated  jazz.  In  his  orchestration,  Whiteman  attempts 
to  bridge  the  gap  between  hot  jazz  and  serious  music.  "More 
than  any  other  man,  Paul  Whiteman  is  responsible  for  the 
present  method  of  orchestral  playing  of  popular  music," 
so  says  Ted  H using.  "Before  his  day,  a  broadcasting  band 
played  melodies  exactly  as  they  were  written.  Whiteman 
took  jazz  and  dance  music  and  made  them  symphonic,  be- 
sides putting  in  variations  in  rhythm.  This  development 
kept  on  until  all  the  best  orchestras  were  playing  in  what 
is  now  called  "advance  style" — that  is,  the  melody  oozes 
out  against  very  simple  but  intricate-sounding  rhythms  in 
the  accompaniment,  and  rhythm  contrasts  are  used  to  supple- 

MUSIC  121 

ment  the  classical  beauties  of  contrasts  in  key  modulations, 
and  between  major  and  minor." 

Because  of  radio,  grand  opera  is  no  longer  the  prerogative 
of  the  wealthy  intelligentsia.  It  takes  its  place  in  strict  com- 
petition for  favor  with  the  latest  "torch"  song.  Opera  was  a 
matter  of  social  prestige.  Humble  people  were  scared  away 
and  still  are  by  one  good  look  at  the  box-office  prices.  Radio 
has  done  much  to  arouse  interest  in  the  opera.  The  pioneer 
broadcast  was  made  on  January  10,  1910,  when  Caruso  and 
Emmy  Destinn  sang  arias  from  "Cavalleria  Rusticana"  and 
"Pagliacci,"  which  were  trapped  and  magnified  by  the  dicto- 
graph directly  from  the  stage  and  borne  on  the  Hertzian 
waves.  NBC  broadcast  Humperdinck's  "Hansel  and  Gretel" 
the  first  entire  opera,  from  the  stage  of  the  Metropolitan  on 
April  30,  1931.  Within  ten  years  radio  has  established  a  na- 
tion-wide familiarity  with  opera. 

The  networks  paid  the  Met  one  hundred  thousand  dol- 
lars a  season  for  the  privilege  but  it  was  worth  more  than 
that  in  terms  of  prestige  to  the  company,  and  the  sponsors 
like  Lucky  Strike  and  Listerine.  Opera  thus  became  estab- 
lished in  the  listener's  taste.  In  1939,  the  Directors,  faced 
with  a  deficit,  threatened  to  close  down  the  performances 
and  sent  out  an  SOS  to  the  listeners  for  contributions. 
Previously,  the  Directors  of  the  New  York  Philharmonic 
Society,  threatened  with  financial  destruction,  made  a  simi- 
lar SOS  (Save  Our  Symphony)  to  the  public  which  responded 
with  five  hundred  thousand  dollars.  The  Met  boxholders 
who  had  been  assessed  annually  four  thousand  five  hundred 
dollars  announced  that  they  would  no  longer  contribute  the 
money  and  a  million  dollar  fund  became  necessary.  Listeners 
contributed  the  sum  of  $326,936.  It  is  estimated  that  ten  mil- 
lion persons  listened  to  a  single  performance  of  "Lohengrin." 

Music  form  depends  on  three  things:  (i)  the  advancement 
of  our  musical  understanding;  (2)  the  quality  of  the  music 
we  hear;  (3)  the  excellence  of  the  receiving  set.  With  final 

122  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

judgment  Hendrik  van  Loon  says:  "If  you  are  musically  ig- 
norant and  are  content  to  listen  to  trash  on  a  radio  set  that 
gives  imperfect  reception,  then  get  all  the  fun  out  of  it  you 
can,  but  remember  you  are  very  much  like  an  old  myopic 
gentleman  trying  to  read  a  cheap  paper  by  candlelight." 

Sponsors  of  Music 

Music  today  is  said  to  be  the  by-product  of  advertising 
agencies  whose  influence  is  considered  a  factor  more  dis- 
couraging to  the  art  than  is  any  other.  Benny  Goodman 
himself  in  an  interview  in  the  World  Telegram  decried  the 
trend.  "Music,"  says  the  bandleader,  "has  become  industrial- 
ized by  the  sponsors,  many  of  whom  know  nothing  of  music 
which  can  be  proved.  I  mean  that  they  appraise  a  song  from 
their  own  viewpoint,  forgetting  that  tunes  played  ten  thou- 
sand times  on  the  air  in  two  years,  like  'Sylvia'  and  'The 
End  of  a  Perfect  Day'  and  'Liebestraum'  may  indicate  a 
worn-out  welcome  rather  than  a  tendency  to  listen." 

A  sponsor  has  often  forbidden  his  bandmaster  to  play 
good,  tuneful  harmonies  of  the  great  composers,  especially 
if  the  movement  is  slow.  Benny  Goodman  once  complained 
that  he  was  balked  in  his  desire  to  play  the  slow  movement 
of  a  Mozart  quintette,  as  a  stunt,  after  his  Carnegie  Hall 
swing  session. 

Pity  the  poor  sponsor.  In  1933,  he  tried  the  classics  on  the 
people.  Beethoven  and  Bach  had  a  real  trial  when  three 
sponsors  laid  out  huge  sums  for  programs  that  vied  with  the 
quality  of  the  New  York  Philharmonic  Symphony  orchestra 
The  millennium  seemed  at  hand.  It  seemed  that  radio  wa? 
making  America  a  nation  of  music-lovers.  Too  good  to  be 
true,  or  to  last.  In  1934  all  of  the  three  sponsors  went  back 
to  the  dance  bands  and  the  light  classics.  And,  as  Alton  Cook 
observed,  "every  radio  season  since  then  brought  an  abund- 
ance of  good  orchestras  on  sponsored  programs,  nearly  all  of 

MUSIC  123 

them  with  announcements  written  in  symphonic  talk  and 
playing  music  just  a  step  above  that  which  you  get  in  a  good 
beer  garden." 

In  the  past  great  music  was  inaccessible  to  the  public. 
Radio  programs  and  radio  performances  which  are  develop- 
ing taste  are  gradually  forcing  sponsors  to  improve  and  yield 
to  all  tastes.  The  sponsor  will  claim  that  he  knows  how  to 
manufacture  and  sell  his  products,  but  that  it  has  become 
his  business  to  attract  listeners  to  those  things  they  prefer 
as  proved  by  experience.  If  necessary  he  will  offer  skimmed 
milk  instead  of  the  heavy  cream  of  music  if  the  public  taste 
is  such.  It's  cheaper  in  the  long  run. 

The  sponsor  is  the  new  patron  of  the  Arts  comparable  to 
kings  and  emperors  of  the  middle  ages.  He  oversteps  his 
mark  often  in  his  advertising  talk  but  he  brings  great  music 
into  the  home  and  widens  artistic  appreciation  of  the  best. 
''Music  is  not  a  language  unless  it  is  played,"  said  Deems 
Taylor.  "How  many  people  can  read  music?  To  enjoy  music 
you  must  hear  it.  A  symphony  is  limited  in  time — a  sym- 
phony concert  must  appeal  to  a  large  number  of  people. 
To  make  place  for  new  music  you  must  leave  out  a  piece  of 
old  music  and  as  a  result  a  conductor  examines  a  new  piece 
more  critically  than  a  curator  of  a  museum  ordering  new 
art  work." 

There  is  no  question  but  that  the  sponsor  has  contributed 
enormously  to  the  diffusion  of  musical  culture  among  wide 
masses  of  people  never  reached  by  the  concert.  Yet,  much 
as  they  have  done,  their  utility  is  seriously  limited,  and, 
even  negated  by  (i)  the  lack  of  any  serious,  systematic  edu- 
cational program  to  relate  the  music  to  the  lives  of  the 
people,  and  (2)  the  planless,  crazy-quilt  mixture  of  "class- 
ical," "semi-classical"  and  "popular"  music  (often  on  the 
same  program)  dictated  by  the  commercial  sponsor's  philoso- 
phy of  "appealing  to  every  taste."  As  a  result,  while  much 
fine  music  is  played,  it  is  often  bogged  down  and  lost  in  a 

124  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

morass  of  mediocrity  and  musical  pap.  Many  of  the  best 
programs  of  unusual  and  valuable  music  are  presented  at 
hours  when  they  cannot  be  heard  by  the  majority  of  people 
who  work. 

There  was  a  day  when  the  showmen  of  radio  thought  they 
had  to  surrender  the  summer  microphone  to  dance  bands, 
because  they  believed  the  listeners  favored  "music  in  a 
lighter  vein."  But  that  theory  has  changed.  The  radio  people 
have  discovered  that  warm  weather  does  not  necessarily 
mean  the  public  has  put  the  love  for  good  music  away  with 
the  furs  and  overcoats. 

Music  has  always  held  first  place  in  broadcasting  because 
it  is  the  one  act  that  has  universal  appeal.  Radio  music  to- 
day can  mould  the  taste  of  tomorrow.  The  destiny  of  music 
lies  largely  in  the  hands  of  the  dictators  of  broadcasting. 
Music  has  penetrated  every  section  of  the  civilized  and  un- 
civilized globe,  because  music  expresses  emotions  which  are 
felt  by  the  general  run  of  people  everywhere. 

Music  has  an  important  place  in  the  education  of  the 
emotions.  Aldous  Huxley  finds  reason  to  believe  that  more 
people  are  able  to  participate  in  the  experience  of  the  music- 
maker  than  in  that  of  the  painter,  the  architect,  or  even  the 
imaginative  writer.  Music  is  an  educational  outlet,  for  wid- 
ening the  consciousness  and  imparting  a  flow  of  emotion,  in 
a  desirable  direction.  " Music,"  says  Huxley,  "may  be  used 
to  teach  a  number  of  valuable  lessons.  When  they  listen  to 
a  piece  of  good  music,  people  of  limited  ability  are  given 
the  opportunity  of  actually  experiencing  thought-and-feeling 
processes  of  a  man  of  outstanding  intellectual  power  and 
exceptional  insight.  Finest  works  of  art  are  precious,  among 
other  reasons  because  they  make  it  possible  for  us  to  know, 
if  only  imperfectly,  and  for  a  little  while,  what  it  actually 
feels  like  to  think  subtly  and  feel  nobly." 

The  late  Ernest  Schelling  once  said:  "Music  is  a  habit." 
A  person  can  accustom  himself  to  needing  music  or  doing 

MUSIC  125 

without  it.  He  can  accustom  himself  to  a  taste  for  good  or 
bad;  and  since  habits  are  mostly  acquired  in  early  youth 
when  the  mind  is  elastic  and  impressionable,  the  best  way 
to  lay  the  foundations  for  music  in  a  nation  is  to  induce 
good  musical  habits  in  the  children. 

There  was  once  a  judge  versed  in  radio  lore  who  was 
called  upon  to  rule  in  a  divorce  suit  partly  growing  out  of 
complaints  by  the  husband  that  he  preferred  light  music  on 
the  radio  and  by  the  wife  that  she  preferred  opera.  The  hus- 
band threw  the  radio  set  out  of  the  window,  smashing  it. 
The  judge  decided  that  they  should  buy  two  radio  sets,  to 
be  equipped  with  earphones  so  each  might  listen  without 
annoyance  to  the  other.  There  is  reason  to  believe  that  after 
this  judgment,  the  couple  are  living  happily  ever  for  radio. 

Deems  Taylor  makes  it  known  that  musical  education  has 
a  long  way  to  go  in  the  recognition  of  new  music.  He  quotes 
the  English  critic,  Newman,  who  says  that  music  of  every 
period  lacks  melody  when  compared  with  the  past.  The 
familiar  is  the  accepted.  Hence,  Taylor's  plea  to  the  listener 
not  to  reject  the  melodies  of  the  new  if  they  clash  with  the 
understanding.  "Listen  again,  if  it  annoys  you  or  makes  you 
angry,"  he  says;  "or  if  it  bores  you.  If  a  composer  furnishes 
enough  personality  to  make  you  recognize  new  style,  give 
it  a  chance.  Hear  it  again." 

Musical  democracy  tolerates  no  snob.  A  snob  is  one  who 
by  dictionary  definition  "makes  birth  or  wealth  or  superior 
position  the  sole  criterion  of  worth."  Those  who  insist  that 
the  world  listen  to  inferior  music  represent  the  same  danger- 
ous snobbery  as  those  who  insist  on  only  the  classics.  Who  is 
it  that  knows  the  taste  of  the  millions  and  dares  to  set 
standards  for  them  on  the  basis  of  a  mediocre  musical  diet? 

A  "Back  to  the  Masters"  movement  all  began  with  a  few 
self-appointed  radio  prophets  telling  us  our  taste  in  music 
was  terrible  and  that  we  should  go  for  symphonies  and 
operas.  The  cry  was  taken  up  by  the  public  schools  which 

126  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

began  installing  courses  in  ' 'music  appreciation,"  purporting 
to  inculcate  the  student  with  a  love  for  the  old  masters  by 
studying  their  lives  and  works.  Colleges,  the  press,  and  radio 
began  to  rally  to  the  uplift  cause. 

Radio  has  its  time  limitations  however,  for  opera  broad- 
casts. "Pagliacci"  is  ideal  for  radio,  covering  only  one  hour, 
but  "Parsifal"  would  require  four  and  a  half  hours.  Hence 
the  networks  went  scouting  for  creators  of  opera  who  could 
keep  the  performance  within  time  limits.  Tabloid  versions 
of  opera  seem  to  be  the  vogue.  If  Shakespeare  can  be  stream- 
lined, so  can  Bizet.  Carmen  was  telescoped  to  sixty  minutes. 
This  is  an  opera  which  would  consume  some  four  hours  or 
more  of  stage  time. 

Erno  Rapee,  in  1938,  conducted  a  festival  of  tabloid  opera 
for  the  Music  Hall  of  the  Air,  taking  care  not  to  omit  a 
single  aria  duet  or  ensemble  of  musical  significance. 

Under  commission  from  CBS,  Vittoria  Giannini  wrote  a 
twenty-nine  minute  and  thirty  seconds  opera  entitled  "Blen- 
nerhasset,"  the  libretto  of  which  dealt  with  the  escape  of 
Aaron  Burr. 

NBC  commissioned  Gian-Carlo  Menotti  to  write  an  origi- 
nal opera  for  radio.  This  was  produced  in  1939,  under  the 
title  "The  Old  Maid  and  the  Thief."  The  performance  in 
fourteen  scenes  occupied  one  hour,  and  tells  the  escapades 
of  a  young  roustabout  who  imposes  on  an  old  maid  who  be- 
friends him  and  he  finally  makes  off  with  all  her  worldly 

Sponsor  Conflict 

The  battle  between  the  highbrow  and  the  lowbrow  in 
musical  taste  continues.  The  lowbrow  is  ready  at  all  times 
to  wield  the  cudgel  against  the  artist  and  the  sponsor,  not 
knowing  where  to  place  the  blame.  The  lowbrow  cries 
out  that  the  artist  is  prostituting  his  art  when  he  condescends 
to  sing  "Danny  Deever"  instead  of  "Lucia." 

MUSIC  127 

Marcia  Davenport  voicing  the  plaint  of  the  highbrow  be- 
lieves that  the  artists  do  not  sing  their  best  on  the  radio 
programs.  They  all  sing  what  they  are  asked  to  sing.  Most 
of  what  they  are  asked  to  sing  is  tripe.  Lawrence  Tibbett 
includes  in  his  popular  classical  songs  such  ballads  as  "Old 
Man  River,"  "Annie  Laurie"  and  "The  Last  Round-Up." 
Reinald  Werrenrath  never  allows  his  music  to  get  beyond 
the  understanding  of  his  audience.  He  clings  to  songs  of  a 
popular  nature  such  as  "On  the  Road  to  Mandalay"  and 
sponsors  who  study  audience  interests  see  that  the  stand-bys 
are  included  in  the  repertory  of  Rosa  Ponselle,  Nino  Mar- 
tini, and  John  Charles  Thomas.  Lawrence  Tibbett  takes 
issue  with  those  who  take  him  to  task  for  "wasting"  his  fine 
voice  on  popular  selections.  When  he  feels  he  should  sing 
a  simple  melody  for  those  of  his  listeners  who  do  not  appre- 
ciate classical  selections  no  one  can  change  his  mind.  Simple 
melodies  require  as  much  artistry  as  the  arias  of  the  opera. 

Subjective  reactions  evidently  tell  us  less  about  what  is 
"in  the  music"  than  about  our  own  attitudes  towards  life  and 
towards  music  as  a  part  of  it.  Undoubtedly  when  we  attempt 
to  judge  the  nature  of  music  and  its  place  in  the  world  solely 
on  the  basis  of  subjective  reactions,  thrills,  pleasure  and  pain, 
we  are  led  into  endless  contradictions. 

Marcia  Davenport  complained  of  the  lack  of  variety  and 
balance  of  sponsors'  music  programs.  There  is  such  a  con- 
gestion of  "good"  music  over  the  week  end  and  such  a  con- 
centration of  plugged  jazz  daily  in  the  week,  that  you  get  a 
surfeit  of  both  things  just  when  the  choicest  programs  of  each 
type  come.  She  suggests  a  Radio  Utopia  where  somebody 
with  the  best  of  musical  judgment,  commercial  and  enter- 
tainment value  would  act  as  general  arbitrator  of  time  and 
distribution  over  the  air  like  the  movie  and  baseball  czar. 
Miss  Davenport  forgets  she  is  dealing  with  an  art.  Her  plan 
smacks  of  dictatorship  over  public  taste. 

Arthur  Bodansky  answered  the  question  of  "shall  there 

128  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

be  a  musical  dictator?"  in  no  uncertain  terms:  "You  cannot 
build  a  musical  nation  from  the  top  down.  You  cannot  turn 
out  a  handful  of  professionals  and  cry,  'People,  these  are 
your  leaders.  Follow  them  and  be  musical!'  It  works  the 
other  way  about.  When  you  can  point  to  a  nation  of  music- 
ally interested  citizens  and  say,  'These  are  your  leaders!' 
the  professionals  will  take  care  of  themselves." 

Review  Your  Technique 


The  microphone  is  a  mechanical  electrical  ear,  and  has 
no  sense  of  discrimination.  It  faithfully  reproduces  all  the 
sound  that  reaches  it.  The  listener  at  an  orchestra  concert 
can  focus  attention  on  musical  sounds  and  exclude  extrane- 
ous noises  such  as  sneezes,  coughs,  reverberations.  Not  so 
with  the  microphone.  It  hears  all  and  tells  all.  IT  MUST  BE 
SOUNDS.  The  primary  rule  is  to  place  it  near  the  orchestra. 
If  it  is  placed  near  the  orchestra,  the  next  problem  is:  Does 
it  pick  up  the  right  amount  of  sound  from  each  instrument? 
Balance  is  the  picking  up  of  the  right  amount  of  sound  from 
each  instrument. 

The  more  desirable  qualities  of  voice  are  those  of  richness, 
flexibility,  smoothness  and  mellowness.  To  achieve  such 
effects  depends  on  the  power  and  quality  of  the  voice,  the 
acoustics  of  the  studio,  and  the  correct  position  before  the 
mike.  Rules  for  the  guidance  of  singers  include: 

1.  Do  not  be  subject  to  the  temptation  to  huddle  the 
mike  unless  you  are  a  crooner.  Center  up  on  the  micro- 
phone; stand  twenty  or  thirty  inches  away. 

2.  Get  the  right  mental  attitude  by   assuming  an   easy 
stance.  An  easy  balance  is  secured  by  placing  one  foot  ahead 
of  the  other. 

3.  Move  closer  to,  and  farther  away  from  the  mike  as 

MUSIC  129 

you  graduate  in  voice  volume.  On  high  notes,  move  away, 
on  soft  tones,  come  closer. 

4.  In  group  singing,  as  in  quartette,  best  effects  result 
if  each  singer  stands  the  same  distance  from  the  mike.  If 
one  voice  stands  out  too  prominently  when  this  is  done,  a 
better  balance  is  obtained  by  moving  that  voice  farther  from 
the  mike  than  the  others.  If  one  member  of  the  quartette 
sings  a  solo,  it  is  important  that  this  member  move  closer  to 
the  microphone  than  the  rest. 

Lawrence  Tibbett  keeps  the  control  men  on  their  toes 
every  minute.  He  is  likely  to  "blast,"  especially  when  sing- 
ing such  a  selection  as  "Glory  Road"  which  is  full  of  danger- 
ous peaks  and  ejaculations.  Richard  Crooks  sings  less  turbu- 
lent selections  and  therefore  he  is  much  more  placid  at  the 

If  the  prima  donna  stands  in  one  place  when  delivering 
a  bravura,  the  engineer's  task  is  simple,  but  if  she  walks 
around  the  stage  and  shifts  from  one  mike  to  another,  the 
mixer  gets  busy.  The  microphone  is  kindest  to  the  naturally 
beautiful,  smooth  voice.  The  singer  who  knows  how  to  ad- 
just her  own  instrument  need  not  fear  the  engineer. 

On  the  air,  crescendos  built  up  with  impressive  effect  by 
the  singer,  must  be  doctored  by  the  engineer  else  they  will 
be  received  by  the  ear  as  distorted  sounds.  As  the  voice  in- 
creases in  volume,  its  dissonant  harmonic  content  grows 
in  proportion,  while  at  the  same  time  the  fundamental  har- 
monic content  does  not  increase  correspondingly.  The  aver- 
age ear  refines  or  mixes  these  two  tones.  The  microphone 
does  no  mixing  but  merely  transmits  what  it  hears.  If  the 
listener  were  seated  at  the  Opera  House  he  would  be  un- 
aware of  any  such  distortion,  but  at  the  receiving  end  of  the 
radio  the  ear  would  tell  him  something  is  wrong. 

For  dramatic  conquest  of  the  audience,  there  is  a  decided 
tendency  among  prima  donnas  to  employ  too  much  voice  on 

130  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

the  upper  notes.  Sopranos  on  the  top  tones,  especially,  force. 
The  singer  must  carefully  watch  his  climaxes.  He  should 
tone  them  down  considerably  lower  than  he  would  on  the 
concert  stage.  Otherwise  the  listener  will  be  knocked  over 
by  one  of  those  blasts  that  mar  even  the  best  recitals. 

Success  on  the  concert  stage  does  not  necessarily  mean 
success  on  the  radio.  A  voice  may  carry  across  the  nation  but 
not  be  strong  enough  to  reach  the  far  end  of  a  small  audi- 
torium. The  man  in  the  control  room  remains  master  of 
volume  and  crescendo. 

Musical  Self  Control 

The  fate  of  many  a  radio  singer  rests  on  the  sensitive 
fingers  and  ears  of  the  engineer  who  manipulates  the  con- 
trols. He  is  virtually  the  "conductor-engineer,"  who  is  able 
to  ruin  the  career  of  the  prima  donna  or  bring  her  to  super- 
human heights.  The  adjustment  by  the  engineers  of  the  rela- 
tive amount  of  the  different  elements  of  the  sound  to  be 
transmitted  is  a  matter  far  more  subtle  than  it  appears.  It 
taxes  both  the  knowledge  and  the  taste  of  all  concerned. 

Howard  Traubman  has  given  us  a  picture  of  "opera,  front 
and  back"  during  broadcasts.  At  the  Metropolitan  Opera 
House  eight  mikes  are  used,  four  of  which  are  suspended 
over  the  orchestra  and  four  placed  in  the  footlights,  in  pairs 
about  one  quarter  length  of  the  stage  rim  from  the  sides. 
Each  pair  of  footlight  mikes  consists  of  a  close  perspective 
and  a  long  perspective  mike;  the  close  perspective  picks  up 
tones  from  a  singer  standing  by.  The  long  perspective 
catches  the  singing  in  the  background.  The  overhead  or- 
chestra mikes  are  placed  at  two  levels,  one  pair  close  to  the 
orchestra.  Thin  tones  come  in  on  the  close  perspective  mikes, 
crescendos  and  fortissimos  on  the  long  perspective  mikes. 
All  of  these  eight  mikes  are  connected  with  the  control 
board  known  as  the  "mixer"  housed  in  one  of  the  boxes  on 

MUSIC  131 

the  grand  tier.  From  this  box,  the  engineer  can  watch  the 
singers  and  the  conductor. 

An  interpretative  artist,  Charles  C.  Gray,  manipulates  the 
control  at  the  Metropolitan.  He  has  a  sensitive  ear,  can 
tune  in  on  any  or  all  the  mikes,  and  create  the  blend  of  tone 
which  makes  the  listener  glory  in  opera.  He  can  make  a 
bleating  soprano  out  of  a  Flagstadt  by  tuning  in  the  closest 
mike  and  stepping  up  the  juice.  He  carries  effects  of  balance, 
quality,  and  dynamics,  in  the  interplay  of  voice,  chorus  and 
orchestra.  At  his  side  is  his  production  man,  Herbert  Liver- 
sidge,  who  reads  the  score  some  six  bars  ahead  and  keeps 
the  control  man  posted  with  hand  signals  on  who  or  what 
is  coming, — a  thumb-forefinger  for  female  soloists,  a  single 
raised  finger  for  men,  two  for  duets,  all  five  for  choruses,  a 
clenched  fist  for  the  whole  works.  The  control  man  watches 
the  signals  ready  to  take  out  squeals  from  coloraturas,  dis- 
tortion out  of  tenors  and  ear  splits  out  of  ensembles. 

The  man  at  the  controls  is  the  ear  of  millions.  He  should 
be  an  artist  in  his  own  right.  The  man  at  the  controls  came 
to  the  rescue  of  many  a  prima  donna  whose  voice  bogged 
down  in  a  series  of  florid  passages.  The  three  thousand  of 
the  radio  audience  may  suffer  but  the  radio  fan  remains  un- 
aware of  the  difficulty.  The  mixer  simply  pulls  up  the  orches- 
tra and  obscures  the  cracking  voice.  He  could,  of  course,  let 
the  singer  do  her  worst,  or  make  her  worse  than  she  really 
is  by  increasing  the  power  at  that  point  where  her  voice  be- 
gins to  crack. 

In  the  case  of  duets,  the  male  voice  is  best  heard  if  it  is 
placed  behind  the  soprano.  If  Lawrence  Tibbett  does  not 
take  a  position  behind  Lily  Pons,  his  baritone  would  stand 
out  in  greater  prominence.  The  control  man  more  easily 
blends  the  tones  and  makes  for  more  agreeable  quality  over 
the  speaker. 

When  a  vocal  ensemble  sings  as  part  of  a  radio  orchestra, 
the  chief  problem  is  "miking"  in  such  a  way  that  the  mixing 

132  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

of  voices  with  instrumental  music  doesn't  become  confusing 
— in  other  words,  so  that  they  blend,  yet  at  the  same  time 
are  separate  and  distinct.  As  a  rule  the  whole  arrangement 
is  made  by  one  man,  not  by  specialist  assistants  who  work 
from  a  general  sketch.  The  style  of  arrangements  changes 
frequently  and  it  is  necessary  for  a  radio  orchestra  to  have 
large  music  libraries. 

"For  a  singer  with  a  smooth  voice,  the  engineer  or  con- 
trol operator  can  make  the  voice  sound  on  the  radio  just  as  he 
bids,"  says  the  noted  tenor,  Richard  Crooks.  "He  can  make 
the  voice  of  little  volume  ring  with  the  boom  of  a  Caruso  or 
can  muffle  a  voice  of  stupendous  proportions.  I  have  seen 
the  man  at  the  controls  put  the  pedal  (soft)  on  Martinelli 
to  such  an  extent  that  he  sounded  like  a  lyric  tenor." 

Orchestra  Set-up 

The  problem  of  picking  up  the  right  amount  of  sound 
from  each  instrument  is  what  the  engineer  refers  to  when 
he  talks  about  "balance."  The  loudness  of  any  instrument 
as  picked  up  by  the  microphone  depends  upon  three  things: 
(i)  distance  from  the  microphone;  (2)  its  position  relative 
to  the  sensitive  face  of  the  microphone;  (3)  the  loudness  of 
the  instrument  itself;  (4)  the  directionality  of  the  instru- 
ment. The  violin  radiates  tone  equally  in  all  directions. 
The  volume  of  a  trumpet  as  it  affects  the  ear  depends  upon 
whether  one  is  in  front  of  it  or  behind  the  bell. 

The  first  violins  are  at  the  extreme  right  and  are  easily 
picked  up  because  of  their  penetrating  sound.  Violas  and 
cellos  are  in  the  center  and  give  a  rich  middle  tone  to  broad- 
cast music.  The  horns  and  woodwinds  are  favored  next  to 
the  stringed  instruments.  On  the  outer  edge  of  the  circle 
are  the  horns,  trumpets,  and  percussion. 

The  proper  height  of  the  microphone  can  be  determined 
by  experimentation.  For  a  small  orchestra  try  it  at  a  height 

MUSIC  133 

of  five  feet.  For  a  larger  one  try  it  at  a  height  of  six  to  eight 
feet.  In  a  live  studio,  the  microphone  should  be  lower  than 
in  a  dead  studio  in  order  to  cut  down  reverberation.  When 
there  is  much  reverberation,  the  microphone  should  be 
placed  closer  to  the  orchestra.  The  microphone  is  usually 
placed  between  the  orchestra  leader  and  his  musicians  but 
to  one  side. 

Radio  is  guilty  of  sugar  coating  music  and  adopting  fam- 
ous symphonic  melodies  to  song  forms  as  did  Sigmund  Rom- 
berg  when  he  wrote  "Song  of  Love,"  Franz  Schubert's  "Un- 
finished Symphony."  No  crime,  say  the  Modernists,  to  pre- 
sent great  melodies  in  simple  form  so  that  larger  numbers 
of  people  may  enjoy  them  in  dance  and  song.  How  was  this 
effected?  Philip  Kerby  in  the  North  American  Review  pays 
tribute  to  radio.  "First,"  he  says,  "simple  melodies  are  played 
which  later  are  interpolated  as  themes  from  some  of  the 
greatest  symphonies.  It  suddenly  becomes  a  game  in  the  mind 
of  the  youthful  listener  who  acquires  his  three  musical  B's 
— Bach,  Beethoven  and  Brahms — with  much  greater  ease 
than  the  three  R's.  Desire  to  imitate  sounds  coming  over  the 
air  accounts  for  the  child's  sudden  interest  in  picking  out 
the  opening  bars  of  the  Chorale  of  Beethoven's  Ninth  on 
the  family  piano  .  .  .  when  wild  horses  could  not  have 
dragged  him  to  practice  his  five  finger  exercises." 

This  and  other  similar  programs  have  undoubtedly  had 
a  cumulative  influence  over  the  music  appreciation  habits 
of  the  nation  during  the  past  decade.  For  certainly  the  atti- 
tude of  the  public  toward  the  standard  classics  has  under- 
gone a  complete  turn-around  and  the  blatant  jazz  of  1920 
is  laughable  today.  Whatever  you  may  think  of  swing,  Benny 
Goodman  has  brought  to  popular  music  a  virtuosity  on  clar- 
inet which  many  symphonic  instrumentalists  envy. 

"Musical  education,"  says  John  Erskine,  "ought  to  reach 
three  classes.  It  ought  to  reach  the  highest  talented  artist, 
the  amateur  who,  according  to  the  measure  of  his  ability, 

134  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

will  try  to  be  an  artist,  but  who  will  sing  or  play  for  fun, 
and  a  still  larger  class  of  men  and  women,  who,  without 
taking  an  active  part  in  music,  love  it,  and  can  listen  to  it 
with  intelligence." 

Josef  Hoffman  will  not  play  down  to  his  public.  Albert 
Spalding  and  Stokowski  have  never  departed  from  standards 
of  highest  excellence  in  the  selection  of  program  numbers. 

This  alliance  of  the  popular  with  the  classic  on  popular 
programs  even  went  so  far  as  to  suggest  an  appearance  of 
Bing  Crosby  with  Leopold  Stokowski  and  the  Philadelphia 

There  is  no  guarantee  of  the  consistency  of  an  important 
series  of  concerts.  Program  policy  veers  with  the  wind  over 
the  seasons.  Spring  and  summer  may  find  it  devoted  to 
classics,  and  then  in  fall  instead  of  symphonic  programs  the 
leader  falls  back  upon  ballet  music,  light  songs,  and  hack- 
neyed material. 

Commercial  programs  or  orchestral  music  such  as  Gen- 
era Electric  hour  under  Walter  Damrosch  occasionally  in- 
clude a  single  movement  of  a  popular  Symphony  but  chiefly 
numbers  like  Rubenstein's  "Melody  in  F,"  Massenet's  "Ele- 
gie,"  Handel's  "Largo,"  Delibes'  "Sylvia." 

"Only  gradually  can  ears  become  more  and  more  capable 
of  perceiving  and  enjoying  combinations  of  musical  tones," 
said  Walter  Damrosch.  This  is  the  philosophy  that  moulded 
the  efforts  of  the  director  of  NBC's  Music  Appreciation 
Hour.  Dr.  Damrosch,  through  his  musical  series,  has  done 
much  to  overcome  indifference  that  marks  the  average  atti- 
tude toward  music.  It  has  been  estimated  that  he  reaches 
more  than  six  million  listeners  in  schools  alone.  Children 
have  been  enabled  to  learn  the  difference  between  clarinet, 
flute,  oboe,  and  trumpet. 

Children,  who  at  one  time  heard  nothing  but  common 
place  songs  indifferently  played  upon  tinny  pianos,  have 

MUSIC  135 

now  been  introduced  to  the  masters.  The  musical  taste  of 
this  country  is  rapidly  developing  to  a  demand  that  desires 
the  very  best. 

Children's  Musical  Taste 

If  parents  would  begin  to  acquaint  their  children  with 
the  language  of  music  at  the  same  time  and  in  the  same  way 
that  they  are  developing  familiarity  with  actual  language, 
that  is,  by  ear,  the  eventual  work  of  the  music-teacher 
would  become  far  simpler.  It  can  be  done  either  through 
phonograph  records  and  the  careful  selection  of  radio  ma- 
terial, or  by  personal  performance  on  the  part  of  the  parents. 
"Music,"  according  to  Gertrude  Atherton,  "rushes  in  where 
intellect  fears  to  tread." 

Some  of  our  broadcasters  are  beginning  to  discover  a  way 
of  simplifying  the  formal  complexities  of  music  in  a  highly 
entertaining  fashion.  The  trick  is  to  take  a  well-known 
melody  and  develop  it  with  all  the  technique  of  a  serious 
composition.  Since  the  tune  is  already  familiar,  the  average 
listener  has  little  difficuty  in  following  it  through  various 

Sigmund  Spaeth,  the  tune  detective,  has  traced  some  of  the 
most  popular  music  to  the  classics.  The  theme  of  Chopin's 
"Fantasia  Impromptu"  was  used  as  a  tune  for  "I'm  Always 
Chasing  Rainbows"  which  radio  established  as  a  vogue.  "Yes, 
We  Have  No  Bananas"  had  its  origin  in  the  mighty  "Halle- 
lujah Chorus"  of  Handel's  Messiah.  Radio  has  made  classic 
tunes  familiar  thru  the  popular  mold  without  the  classical 
tag.  There  are  those  who  trace  the  improvisation  of  swing 
to  the  time  of  Handel  in  the  eighteenth  century  and  call 
modern  "hot"  selections  merely  dime  novel  interpretations. 

Leading  composers  have  long  used  syncopated  rhythm. 
Witness  Debussy's  "Golliwog's  Cake-Walk."  Stravinsky's 
"Petrushka,"  Satie's  ballet  "Parade,"  the  second  movement 
of  Ravel's  violin  sonata. 

136  RAPE    OF   RADIO 


The  hillbilly  seems  to  have  taken  permanent  root  in  radio. 
Hillbilly  songs  predominate  on  the  air. 

The  term  "hillbilly"  in  its  purest  sense  refers  to  the  poor 
whites,  who,  by  choice  or  necessity,  till  small  farms  in  the 
hill  lands  of  North  Carolina  and  other  states.  Economic 
disadvantages  keep  them  illiterate  but  they  have  a  rustic 
keenness  of  a  sort  and  a  philosophical  outlook  on  life  that 
makes  them  an  object  of  admiration  to  the  thinkers. 

Hillbilly  music  has  come  to  be  regarded  as  strictly  Amer- 
ican folk  music.  The  range  includes  negro  spirituals,  moun- 
tain songs,  cowboy  songs,  lumber-camp  jingles,  adaptations 
of  popular  songs  and  once-current  hits,  and  paraphrases  of 
old  English  ballads.  In  the  strictest  sense  the  mountaineer 
ballads  are  old  English  folk  songs,  some  of  them  even  trace- 
abe  to  old  Gregorian  chants;  and  as  such  they  are  not  strictly 
American  products. 

Hillbilly  songs  cover  the  gamut  of  human  emotions.  They 
tell  of  "Innocent  Convicts,"  "Train  Disasters,"  "Delightful 
Murders,"  "Mother  Love,"  "River  Tragedies,"  "Misunder- 
stood People,"  "Died-for-love  People,"  "Charming  Bandits," 
— in  fact,  every  subject  under  the  sun  is  covered. 

Successful  hillbilly  singers  sing  in  phrases,  regardless  of 
the  melody;  and  will  stop  to  breathe  whenever  they  darn 
please,  even  though  it  means  adding  several  more  beats 
to  a  measure.  The  average  hillbilly  singer  sings  by  ear,  plays 
about  three  chords  in  a  key,  becomes  "class"  if  he  plays  four 
chords,  and  is  a  positive  genius  when  he  masters  six  chords. 
He  will  invariably  change  a  melody  just  so  he  can  inject 
some  of  his  fancy  chords. 

Certain  songs  like  "The  Last  Roundup"  become  hits  be- 
cause of  sheer  melody  or  novelty.  "The  Last  Roundup"  was 
a  haunting  variation  from  the  blue  songs  and  the  torch 
songs  of  the  period.  Whether  the  words  have  more  to  do  with 

MUSIC  137 

the  song  hit  than  the  music,  there  is  a  question  answered 
with  vigor  on  both  sides.  Some  singers  give  the  melody 
everything  and  mumble  the  words.  The  hillbilly  tune  is 
destined  to  remain  with  us.  Radio  has  been  enriched  by  a 
wealth  of  songs. 

In  the  Ozark  region,  without  movies  and  without  a  radio, 
the  mountaineer  finds  a  means  of  expression  in  the  homely 
melodies  he  plays.  Most  every  cabin  contains  at  least  one 
guitar,  and  on  this  instrument,  which  is  as  common  as  the 
hoe  or  shovel,  every  member  of  a  mountaineer  family  can 
strum,  easily  carrying  a  tune  in  the  minor  key. 

The  Crooner  Arrives 

The  appeal  of  the  lullaby  melody  led  to  the  development 
of  the  crooner.  The  crooner  generally  has  a  flexible  and 
well-controlled  voice.  To  accomplish  those  warm,  resonant 
and  intimate  vocalizations,  the  crooner  sings  across  a  micro- 
phone a  few  inches  away  from  his  mouth.  At  such  close 
range  every  breath  in-take,  every  pitch  variation  and  the 
very  gasp  of  the  singer  permeates  the  room  of  the  listener. 
To  cloud  the  sibilant  sounds,  a  simple  device  is  tried:  The 
crooner  opens  the  mouth  slightly  wider  than  usual  to  pro- 
duce the  "s"  sound  and  then  sharply  chops  off  the  sibilant. 
Singers  of  the  blues,  "torch  songs,"  heat  songs,  and  hillbilly 
numbers  often  need  generous  amplification  of  their  voices. 
The  control  man  is  their  best  friend. 

The  word  "crooner"  has  become  a  somewhat  jocular  term 
to  denote  mournful  or  unpleasant  noises.  The  injection  of 
this  type  of  song  into  dance  music  was  taken  very  seriously 
by  a  large  number  of  listeners.  One  dictionary  defines 
"crooning,"  as  low,  monotonous  manner  of  singing.  Another 
emphasizes  its  "moaning  sound,  as  of  cattle  in  pain." 

The  best  exponents  of  crooning  are  Rudy  Vallee  and 
Bing  Crosby.  The  secret  of  crooning  lies  in  its  intimate  per- 

138  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

sonality  singing.  The  untrained  voice  generally  retains  en- 
dearing qualities.  People  react  more  sensitively  to  singers 
who  are  trying  to  do  their  best  and  the  very  crudities  of  the 
voice  greet  the  listener  with  a  surprising  effect  of  sincerity. 

Bing  Crosby's  voice  personality  might  have  been  destroyed 
by  vocal  training.  From  the  technical  standpoint  his  voice 
is  said  to  have  remarkable  range  covering  the  tenor  and 
the  baritone.  His  adaptability  is  surprising.  He  can  shout 
out  volume  in  a  fast  swing  number,  croon  a  slow,  senti- 
mental tune,  or  render  a  Robeson  spiritual  "straight."  The 
word,  "crooning,"  is  inseparable  in  meaning  from  lullabies 
hummed  by  negro  mothers.  Some  psychologists  believe  that 
crooning  lavishes  maternal  instinct  upon  those  who  listen, 
and  that  male  listeners  find  female  crooning  has  the  effect  of 
a  sedative  in  addition  to  its  protective  embrace.  The  haters 
of  crooning  are  the  cerebrotonics  who  like  their  emotions 
underdone.  Many  listeners  are  annoyed  by  sentimentality 
that  seems  unworthy  of  the  intellectual  spirit. 

Experts  call  attention  to  the  subtoning  used  in  crooning. 
The  simplest  example  of  this  technique  is  found  in  the 
much  maligned  crooner  who  whispers  into  the  microphone 
so  softly  that  nobody  in  the  studio  can  hear  him  above  the 
orchestra,  yet  his  voice  is  clear  and  strong  to  the  listener 
at  the  set.  This  same  principle  is  employed  in  the  use  of 
muted  instruments.  A  heavily  muted  trombone,  trumpet; 
or  clarinet,  is  brought  up  does  to  the  mike,  playing  so 
softly  that  even  the  conductor  cannot  hear  it,  yet  on  the  air 
its  gentle  tone  predominates  over  the  fortissimo  of  the  ac- 

The  crooner  is  in  the  same  category  as  certain  subtone 
instruments  that  carry  only  ten  feet  without  a  microphone. 
When  sound  vibrations  are  turned  into  electrical  frequen- 
cies, it  is  only  a  matter  of  amplification  to  change  a  sob  into 
a  roar.  "It  isn't  the  crooners'  voices  that  are  bad,"  it  was 
once  said  apologetically,  "it's  their  style.  If  only  they'd  stop 

MUSIC  139 

sobbing."  Crooning  gives  the  sound  color.  Color  has  been 
defined  by  Harold  Barlow,  the  conductor,  as  "the  difference 
between  Lawrence  Tibbett  and  Bing  Crosby  singing  the 
same  note." 

Blue  songs  must  be  added  to  the  gay  and  frolicsome  tunes 
to  lend  that  contrast  which  the  ear  craves.  The  doleful  note 
was  struck  by  "Stormy  Weather"  and  "The  Last  Roundup." 
The  maudlin  ballad  with  its  insistent  repetitious  note  creeps 
into  the  hearts  of  hosts  of  listeners. 

American  crooners  refuse  to  identify  themselves  with  the 
word  crooner.  The  British  are  more  sensible  and  admit  there 
is  such  a  thing  as  soft  singing. 

There  are  crooners  and  warblers  of  the  "Bird  Song"  from 
"Pagliacci";  heroic  interpreters  of  "Home  On  the  Range"; 
tender  voicing  of  "Who  is  Sylvia?";  robusto  roars  of  the 
"Toreador  Song."  Musical  literature  is  literally  ransacked 
for  the  melodies  that  can  tickle  the  popular  ear.  The  older 
the  song,  the  better.  Ethel  Waters  was  the  first  to  achieve 
stardom  as  a  radio  singer.  Her  voice  crooning  "Stormy 
Weather,"  cleared  away  the  clouds  of  heartbreak  and  disap- 
pointment. Her  powerful  suggestibility  in  voice  found  echo 
in  the  minds  of  many  listeners.  The  vogue  was  continued 
by  Ella  Fitzgerald,  a  negro  vocalist  of  Chick  Webb's  Band, 
who,  having  exhausted  Stephen  Foster,  took  to  nursery 
rhymes.  Amongst  her  most  popular  renditions  were,  "A  Tis- 
ket,  a  Tasket,"  which  clung  to  the  senses  like  some  breezy 

Maxine  Sullivan,  a  colored  girl,  in  1939  conceived  the  idea 
of  singing  "Loch  Lomond,"  to  swing  time.  Her  rendition 
was  a  colossal  success  and  she  established  a  vogue  of  swing- 
ing Scotch  ballads  on  every  radio  station  in  the  land.  She 
got  the  idea  as  a  waitress.  When  she  cleaned  up  she  would 
sing  softly  in  order  not  to  attract  attention. 

There  are  isolated  groups  in  all  sections  of  the  world  pre- 

140  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

pared  to  fight  to  the  death  to  prove  that  Maxine  Sullivan, 
from  the  Onyx  Club,  is  a  greater  artist  than   Lily  Pons. 


Before  1912  the  popular  songs  were  simple,  straightfor- 
ward songs.  Choruses  linked  the  verses  that  told  some  sort 
of  human  story,  or  episode.  The  thing  called  Ragtime  sped 
over  the  land  about  1912.  Its  fever  crossed  the  Atlantic  to 
England.  Its  rhythms  were  novel  and  audacious,  jerky,  stac- 
cato. This  was  the  era  of  "Alexander's  Ragtime  Band," 
"Everybody's  Doing  It,"  and  "Hftchy  Koo."  Ragtime  sur- 
vived the  war  and  developed  into  jazz.  Jazz  shot  up  the 
thermometer  and  became  hot,  and  hot  music  became  swing. 

Radio  widened  Tin  Pan  Alley  into  vast  avenues  of  new 
exploration.  Tin  Pan  Alley  proceeded  to  raise  the  roof  from 
orthodox  forms  and  musical  prejudice.  Radio  has  had  very 
little  effect  on  popular  music  in  the  last  fifteen  years.  The 
lyrics  of  popular  songs  tend  toward  more  sophistication 
than  in  1920.  There  are  still  thirty-two  bars  to  the  chorus 
of  the  average  popular  number.  Ballads  have  swerved  from 
generalized  philosophy  to  a  particular  philosophy.  The  torch 
singers'  plaint  is  now  a  tale  of  personal  woe. 

Love  is  a  perennial  theme.  And  as  most  motion  pictures 
are  about  love,  most  songs  follow  the  theme.  There  is  a 
plentiful  sprinkling  of  moons  and  hearts,  and  kisses,  and 
somebody's  arms.  The  trouble  is  that  America  is  turned  into 
a  land  of  melancholy  women  whose  love  is  unrequited;  an 
epidemic  of  Helen  Morgan's  wail  in  minor  chords  that  they 
"Can't  Help  Lovin'  That  Man."  Libby  Holman  started  a 
mode  with  her  "Moanin'  Low"  manner  of  singing  "Body 
and  Soul"  that  ushered  in  the  era  of  the  torch  singer. 

Bing  Crosby  admits  the  torch  songs  are  popular  especially 
with  the  youngsters.  They  serve  as  an  outlet  for  the  emotions 
of  boys  and  girls  or  for  a  love  affair.  "The  kids,"  says  he, 

MUSIC  141 

"going  through  a  love  affair  can  wreathe  themselves  into 
songs  about  'you  and  me' — they  are  really  imagining  them- 
selves making  love  to  the  particular  Somebody  when  they 
sing  'I  Surrender,  Dear.'  The  era  of  depression  brought 
forth  such  songs  as  "Who's  Afraid  of  the  Big  Bad  Wolf?" 
"Happy  Days,"  and  "Brother,  Can  You  Spare  a  Dime?" 
which  became  popular  because  they  reflected  the  state  of 
mind  of  the  vast  masses  of  the  people.  Humanity  likes  to 
share  its  common  experience  with  the  key  words  and  the 
key  melodies  of  its  representative  singer  before  the  micro- 

"The  world  tendency  today,"  prophesied  George  Anthiel, 
"is  toward  music  that  is  simple,  more  melodic  and  tonal. 
Songs  must  have  something  so  simple  and  fundamental  in 
them  that  they  never  get  out  of  the  ear  once  they  are  in." 
In  this  point  of  view  he  is  seconded  by  that  prolific  writer  of 
hits,  Irving  Berlin,  who  says:  "There  will  always  be  the  last- 
ing appeal  of  the  straight  popular  song.  Here,  however,  there 
is  nothing  new  either,  at  least  lyrically.  Only  the  words  are 
new,  and  the  words  of  a  song  are  all-important,  for  the 
melodies  linger  on,  but  it  is  the  words  that  give  the  song  the 
freshness  and  life.  It  is  only  once  in  a  while  that  someone 
comes  along  with  a  new  tune;  they  all  follow  the  same  gen- 
eral pattern,  but  the  words  are  what  really  count."  For  radio 
then,  there  is  no  formula  for  writing  a  song  that  will  appeal, 
—from  jazz  to  sentimental  ballads,  to  sophisticated  musical 
comedy  compositions. 

The  microphone  pounces  on  a  new  tune  and  within  six 
weeks  exhausts  it  for  the  popular  ear.  Writers  cannot  hope 
to  satisfy  the  demand.  Radio  can  never  kill  songs  that  have 
a  right  to  live,  songs  that  have  found  a  warm  spot  in  the 
heart.  Such  productions  as  "I've  Got  Rhythm,"  and  "A 
Japanese  Sandman,"  remain  endearing,  though  mellow 
with  age. 

142  RAPE    OF    RADIO 


The  most  active  unit  of  radio  is  the  dance  band.  Day  and 
night  it  is  on  the  air  to  lull  the  country  into  contentment  or 
rouse  it  from  its  lethargy  with  the  persistent  drum  beat  or 
whoops  of  saxophones. 

Most  of  the  band  leaders  owe  their  success  to  broadcasting. 
Until  the  advent  of  radio  their  popularity  was  confined  to 
the  areas  of  the  honky-tonk  dance  hall.  Today  they  have  be- 
come household  gods  from  one  end  of  the  land  to  the  other, 
slowing  up  or  quickening  their  tempo  to  satisfy  an  admiring 

Radio  invariably  demands  a  distinctive  style  of  its  favo- 
rite bands.  Guy  Lombardo  has  throbbing  saxophones; 
Wayne  King,  sentimental,  slow  waltz  tempo;  Ray  Noble, 
"collegiate  hot,"  Madriguera,  tango  music;  Louis  Prima  is 
"high  priest  of  the  trumpet";  Hal  Kemp,  the  staccato  type  of 
music,  reminding  you  of  the  rhythmic  clicking  of  railroad 
wheels.  The  search  for  novel  effects  reaches  far  and  wide. 

Tom  Dorsey  specializes  in  "sweet"  music,  but  his  band 
can  swing  into  frenzied  tempo  to  match  the  others.  It  is  the 
trombone  of  the  leader  that  lends  its  mellifluosity  to  the 
calmer  and  more  sustained  rhythms  which  characterize  his 

Benny  Goodman  "Apostle  of  the  Swing"  continues  to  be 
the  most  popular  and  highest-salaried  exemplar  of  that  art. 
The  Harlem  rhythms  are  too  intricate  and  too  brutally 
rhapsodic  to  attain  a  strong  radio  appeal. 

Paul  Whiteman  made  a  drastic  change  in  his  orchestra  in 
1938,  cutting  out  a  portion  of  his  string  section  and  putting 
in  more  saxophones  and  woodwinds  to  take  care  of  the 
swing.  It  is  possible  to  make  a  saxophone  laugh  and  play 
and  weep. 

Lovers  of  soft  music  altho'  passionately  devoted  to  the 
style,  may,  as  a  sort  of  concession,  listen  to  the  swingsters. 

MUSIC  143 

The  jitterbugs,  however,  close  their  ears  to  the  seductive 
strains  of  the  "schmaltzers." 

For  over  ten  years  no  bands  have  threatened  the  suprem- 
acy of  Guy  Lombardo  and  Wayne  King. 

In  the  last  decade,  from  1927  to  the  present  day,  these 
famous  names  musically  affected  the  dance  taste  throughout 
the  country:  Paul  Whiteman,  Rudy  Vallee,  Will  Osborne, 
Guy  Lombardo,  Bing  Crosby,  Russ  Columbo,  Wayne  King, 
Richard  Himber,  Duke  Ellington,  Cab  Galloway,  Shep 
Fields,  Benny  Goodman,  Tommy  Dorsey  and  Glen  Gray. 

In  1929,  Rudy  Vallee  emerged  as  the  radio  idol.  So  did 
Will  Osborne.  Both  initiated  "crooning"  styles  in  song  and 
ushered  in  the  "cheek  to  cheek"  dancing  trend.  Guy  Lom- 
bardo's  syncopated  rhythms  added  sprightliness  to  the  dance 
step.  In  1930  and  1931  Richard  Himber,  disciple  of  Rudy 
Vallee,  was  the  first  to  employ  a  harp  in  a  dance  orchestra. 
He  abolished  announcement  between  musical  numbers 
played  on  the  air. 

The  "rippling  rhythm"  of  Shep  Fields  was  hailed  as  a 
newcomer  in  1936.  A  staccato,  pulsating  rhythm,  it  is  said 
to  have  brought  into  being  the  "shag."  Guy  Lombardo  em- 
ployed the  flute  as  an  obligate  against  the  trumpet. 

The  jazz  craze  lasted  so  long  that  it  gave  its  name  to  an 
age.  It  was  the  war  and  post-war  age.  Damon  Runyon  says: 
"There  was  a  period  between  jazz  and  swing  when  our  na- 
tional nuttiness  simmered  down  to  novelty  bands  and  soft 
symphonic  dance  music.  It  was  the  calm  before  the  swing 
storm  and  though  the  musicians  tell  you  that  swing  is  really 
older  than  jazz,  there  is  a  newness  to  the  violence  of  the  cur- 
rent craze  that  is  more  violent  than  any  other  similar  craze 
we  have  ever  known." 

Doctors  of  symphony  are  generally  too  optimistic  in  ap- 
praising the  power  of  radio  over  the  musical  tastes.  In  1938, 
it  was  the  "June"  and  "moon"  types  that  sold  any  number 
of  copies.  "Chapel  in  the  Moonlight"  was  at  the  head  of  the 

144  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

list,  with  four  hundred  thousand  copies.  Amongst  the  fifteen 
best  sellers  was,  "Moonlight  and  Shadows"  and  "Sailboat  in 
the  Moonlight."  The  sure-fire  ingredients  of  a  popular  song 
seemed  to  be  the  moon  and  a  boat.  Not  one  song  by  such 
sophisticated  writers  as  Rogers  and  Hart,  Jerome  Kern 
and  Irving  Berlin  equalled  in  sales  the  corny  ditties. 

Band  leaders  have  made  significant  attempts  to  make 
serious  music  out  of  swing.  Ferde  Groffe's  "Grand  Canyon 
Suite,"  achieved  popularity  some  years  ago.  George  Gersh- 
win was  child  of  the  age  of  radio  and  mass  entertainment. 
He  caught  the  spirit  of  America  in  his  "Rhapsody  in  Blue," 
and  made  music  fascinating  to  the  masses  because  they  could 
understand  it. 

Hot  jazz  grew  out  of  spirituals,  blues,  ragtime  and  work- 
songs  of  the  Southern  negro.  Geographically  it  appeared  in 
Memphis,  Mobile  and  New  Orleans  where  the  Original 
Dixieland  Jazz  Band  was  organized  in  1900.  Young  white 
men  caught  the  spirit  of  jazz  in  Chicago.  Bix  Biederbecke, 
master  of  the  cornet  and  piano,  became  the  evil  genius  of 
the  new  medium.  Benny  Goodman  at  the  age  of  thirteen  was 
an  apostle  at  the  feet  of  Louis  Armstrong,  one  of  the  pio- 
neers of  the  jazz  movement.  The  Chicago  style  of  hot  jazz 
is  a  style  which  has  a  contemporary  feeling  as  exemplified 
in  Bix  Biederbecke's  "Davenport  Blues." 

Each  artist  excels  in  his  own  special  way  and  appeals  to 
a  following  which  worships  his  special  technique.  A  debate 
on  the  relative  merits  of  Berlin  and  Beethoven  is  like  a  de- 
bate on  the  relative  merits  of  the  apple  and  the  pear.  Each 
is  as  you  like  it. 

Tommy  Dorsey  once  produced  on  the  air  a  laboratory 
demonstration  of  the  history  of  the  development  of  swing 
in  modern  music.  The  program  was  aptly  called  "The  Evo- 
lution of  Swing."  Representative  numbers  illustrated  the 
life  cycle. 

The  first  period  was  one  of  crude  improvisation.  The 

MUSIC  145 

middle  period  found  jazz  going  through  the  expert  refining 
processes  of  orchestration.  Trained  soloists  began  to  flourish 
as  part  of  the  entourage. 

In  this,  our  modern  day,  comes  the  return  to  the  period 
of  free  improvisation  added  to  the  background  of  well- 
defined  orchestration.  The  year  1900  found  many  orchestras, 
white  and  colored,  playing  jazz.  These  were  small  bands  of 
the  "dawn-age"  of  swing,  great  ragtime  jazz  orchestras  like 
the  Original  Creole  Band  and  the  Olympia  Band.  Every 
man  in  these  outfits  played  as  the  spirit  moved  him,  and  the 
final  effect  was  often  a  wild  cacophony  of  violins,  mandolins, 
smaller  wind  instruments  and  percussion  instruments.  The 
Dixieland  Band  organized  in  1909  exercised  an  important 
influence  on  the  jazz  impulse  of  modern  music.  It  evolved 
a  highly  individualistic  style — the  Dixieland  style — which 
is  still  employed.  Their  style  is  semi-harmonic. 

Pass  now  to  1920.  Paul  Whiteman  dominates  the  middle 
age  of  jazz  shortly  after  the  World  War.  This  is  the  period 
of  the  refining  influence  when  the  raw  materials  of  old-time 
jazz,  high  degree  of  musicianship  and  orchestration  become 
evident.  Whiteman  turns  to  the  symphony  and  transmutes 
it  into  new  rhythms  which  win  applause  from  serious  critics. 

Now,  1930.  A  new  outburst  of  spontaneity  is  contributed 
by  colored  bands  which  resume  their  original  leadership. 
The  solo  technique  is  more  reckless  than  that  used  by  white 
bandsmen.  Stylisms  identify  a  performance. 

We  are  definitely  in  the  age  of  swing.  Swing  is  divided 
into  two  classes:  (i)  'le  jazz  grande,'  which  may  be  defined 
as  orchestral  swing;  (2)  'le  jazz  intime,' — swing  music  cre- 
ated by  a  smaller  group,  free  to  improvise  to  their  hearts 
content,  without  being  chained  by  manuscript. 

Swing  has  been  defined  as  "a  manner  of  spontaneous  im- 
provisation around  a  given  theme  with  a  special  regard  for 
rhythmic  contrasts."  This  presupposes  a  simple  basic  melody 
that  appears  often  enough  to  have  been  established  in  mem- 

146  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

ory.  Over  this  pattern  of  basic  rhythm  the  players  are  per- 
mitted to  weave  inventive  interpretations  that  stand  out  in 
melodic  contrast. 

"Ad  lib  playing,"  is  Artie  Shaw's  description  of  the  music 
he  or  Benny  Goodman  play  on  their  clarinets.  "You  may  call 
it  swing,  if  you  wish,"  says  Shaw,  "but  what  does  it  mean — 
jazz  and  not  swing." 

Benny  Goodman  has  let  out  some  of  the  secrets  of  his 
method  in  the  Pictorial  Review  article  entitled,  "Jam  Ses- 
sion." He  reveals  that  although  most  of  the  organization's 
work  is  improvisation,  he  holds  frequent  rehearsals  and 
makes  constant  demands  on  his  large  library.  He  reveals: 
"The  pianist  is  playing  a  solo.  He  is  giving  out  the  melody. 
I  pick  up  my  clarinet  and  play  some  figure  on  it  which 
shows  the  band  the  kind  of  background  I  would  like.  I  may 
then  play  a  solo,  while  all  the  men  accompany  me  in  full 
harmony.  Then  one  of  the  trumpeters  signals  to  me  that  he 
is  ready  for  a  solo.  I  nod,  and  after  a  short  interlude  the 
trumpeter  plays  his  variation  on  the  melody,  while  all  of  us 
accompany  him.  So  it  goes  until  the  possibilities  of  the  tune 
are  exhausted — or  the  audience  is." 

Chamber  Music 

Music,  one  of  the  most  stimulating  of  the  arts,  can  also  be- 
come one  of  the  most  interesting  and  most  fatiguing  as  evi- 
denced by  chamber  music.  Radio  music  is  pretty  well  out 
of  the  knee-pants  stage  and  is  giving  concerts  of  chamber 
music  for  those  who  can  stand  them.  The  taste  for  chamber 
music  is  of  the  highest  and  most  eclectic  form  of  music  ap- 
preciation. The  reason  lies  in  the  intellectual  and  deeply 
serious  quality  of  the  string  quartet  as  a  musical  form.  When 
the  listener  sits  down  to  a  festival  of  chamber  music,  it  is  not 
so  much  entertainment  for  him  as  spiritual  sustenance.  And 
oh,  how  he  likes  to  be  fed  with  the  best! 

MUSIC  147 

There  is  a  scarcity  of  radio  broadcasts  of  chamber  music. 
No  music  presents  a  greater  musical  intimacy  or  a  more 
closely  related  expression  of  ideas.  No  other  music  outside 
of  unaccompanied  religious  chorals  can  attain  the  spiritual 
eminence  that  chamber  music  offers. 

A  farsighted  initiative  in  radio  has  been  taken  by  the 
NBC  in  establishing  the  Music  Guild  of  Chamber  Music. 
In  this  ensemble  playing  the  very  nature  of  this  type  of 
music  is  to  reduce  the  element  of  vain  virtuosity  to  a  mini- 
mum and  to  increase  the  element  of  team  work  which  is 
essential  to  an  ensemble. 

The  Guild  has  given  opportunity  to  comparatively  little 
known  musical  compositions.  Such  musicians  keenly  enjoy 
the  chance  given  them  by  invisibility  and  comparative  isola- 
tion,— to  forget  themselves. 

Although  there  has  been  a  recent  heightening  of  interest 
in  choral  music,  radio  has  generally  neglected  this  form. 
The  piano  has  come  back  into  its  own — two,  four,  and  eight 
hands  provide  sufficient  novelty.  George  Gershwin  showed 
himself  at  his  best  before  the  piano.  His  "Jazz  Concerto  in 
F,"  is  something  more  than  an  abundance  of  notes  laid  on 
with  an  over-generous  hand. 


Between  the  dark  and  the  daylight, 
There  comes  from  each  radio  tower 

A  series  of  gentle  broadcasts 

That  are  known  as  the  Children's  Hour. 

And  the  girls  and  boys  are  gathered 

To  listen  with  bated  breath 
To  educational  programs 

Of  murder  and  Sudden  Death. 

148  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

Then  the  air  is  athrob  with  sirens, 

As  the  ears  of  the  Little  Ones 
Tune  in  to  the  soothing  echoes 

Of  "gats"  and  of  Tommy-guns. 

And  the  eyes  of  the  kids  are  popping, 

As  they  listen  and  wait,  perplexed 
By  the  educational  problems 

Of  who  will  be  rubbed  out  next. 

Grave  Alice  and  Laughing  Allegra, 

And  Harry  and  Dick  and  Tom 
Hear  music  of  sawed-off  shotguns, 

Accompanied  by  a  bomb; 

And  quiver  and  shake  and  shiver 

At  the  tender  and  pleasant  quirks 
Of  a  gang  of  affable  yeggmen 

Giving  some  "punk"  the  Works! 

And  they  listen  in  awesome  silence 
To  the  talk  of  some  mobster  group. 

As  they're  opening  up  a  bank  vault 
With  nitroglycerine  "soup"; 

Oh,  sweet  is  the  noise  of  battle 

To  the  children's  listening  ears, 
As  the  guns  of  the  detectives  answer 

The  guns  of  the  racketeers; 

And  these  educational  programs 

Will  make  the  youngsters  cower, 
And  the  night  will  be  filled  with  nightmares 

Induced  by  the  Children's  Hour! 

Copyright,    1937,    Pocket    Book    Pub.    Corp.,    420    Lexington    Avenue. 


IN  THE  scheme  of  radio,  children  have  been  overlooked. 
Poor  and  forgotten  orphan  of  progress,  the  child  is  at  last 
coming  into  his  birthright.  Comprehensive  studies  are  being 
launched  to  find  out  what  kind  of  entertainment  he  enjoys, 
the  number  of  hours  he  listens,  and  the  effect  of  specific  pro- 
grams on  manners  and  habits.  The  problem  will  always  be 
with  radio  as  long  as  there  is  a  sharp  division  between  what 
parents  think  about  radio  programs  and  what  their  children 
think  about  them. 

While  children's  radio  programs  have  not  yet  reached 
the  stage  of  international  discussion,  many  illuminating  sur- 
veys have  been  made  in  this  country.  Just  as  in  the  case  of 
the  movies,  it  has  been  found  futile  to  force  children  to  feed 
upon  educationally  and  scientifically  planned  programs 
which  their  elders  believe  would  be  good  for  them.  Chil- 
dren automatically  practice  selection  in  entertainment  and 
they  know  what  they  like  and  what  they  dislike.  The  judg- 
ment of  children  stands  out  in  sharp  contrast  to  that  of  their 
elders.  Parents  are  put  on  the  defense.  Children  glow  about 
programs  which  are  condemned  as  harmful  in  the  formative 
years.  Interests  and  the  tastes  of  the  parents,  when  fostered 
on  the  children,  create  civil  war  in  the  household. 

In  recent  surveys  an  attempt  has  been  made  to  study  the 
following  problems:  (i)  What  shall  be  the  type  and  choice 
of  programs?  (2)  How  do  their  quality  and  character  affect 
the  growing  personality?  (3)  Do  children's  programs  conflict 
with  the  other  activities  of  the  child?  (4)  How  shall  mem- 
bers of  the  family  adjust  themselves  to  the  child's  interest? 

The  type  and  choice  of  programs,  if  decided  by  the  parent, 


150  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

arbitrarily  stirs  resentment.  The  motives  for  supervision 
and  restriction  cannot  be  easily  explained  to  a  child  who  ex- 
ults over  his  favorite  program.  Radio  programs  have  a 
superior  interest  to  the  exclusion  of  other  interests  and  activ- 
ities. The  parent  begins  to  view  with  alarm  the  fact  that  the 
loud  speaker  has  made  a  slave  of  the  child.  Family  conversa- 
tion is  suddenly  cut  down.  There  is  no  time  for  reading, 
group  games,  creative  play.  The  child  may  even  escape  from 
music  practice  and  singing. 

The  Child's  Study  Association  of  America  was  a  pioneer 
in  the  attempt  to  secure  thoughtful  judgment  on  the  sub- 
ject. Its  results  were  obtained  through  questionnaires  submit- 
ted to  mothers  all  over  the  country.  Some  attempt  was  made 
to  calm  down  the  hysterical  grievances  and  to  provide  con- 
structive analysis  for  ideal  programs.  In  recent  surveys  the 
mothers  made  definite  conclusions  that  radio  was  an  un- 
qualified menace,  made  children  nervous,  developed  fears, 
and  created  a  taste  for  sensational  nonsense.  More  than  a 
quarter  of  those  answering  the  questionnaire  looked  upon 
radio  as  a  family  boon  that  prevented  quarrels,  and  gave 
children  of  varying  ages  enjoyment.  Almost  unanimously 
the  mothers  concluded  that  radio  interfered  with  other 
activities,  even  bathing  and  taking  meals. 

Surveys  indicate  that  forty  out  of  a  hundred  tune  in  for 
a  half  hour  or  more  daily.  Genuine  and  fairly  sustained  in- 
terest begins  at  the  age  of  six.  A  conservative  estimate  makes 
twelve  to  thirteen  out  of  a  hundred  confirmed  radio  fans. 

The  Director  of  The  Child's  Study  of  America,  Mrs,  Sido- 
nie  Matsner  Gruenberg,  is  fair-minded  in  her  judgment  of 
children's  programs.  "It  is  beyond  dispute  that  many  of  the 
programs  are  objectionable  because  they  convey  false  or  mis- 
leading sentimentalities,  or  because  they  murder  the  king's 
English  or  play  too  recklessly  with  elemental  fears  and 

Can't  children  be  trained  to  exercise  nice  discriminations? 


When  one  program  is  rejected,  to  what  substitute  shall  the 
child  glue  his  ears?  Even  if  the  child  could  obey  the  fiat  of 
his  parent,  radio  might  not  have  anything  better  to  offer. 
The  child  seems  to  be  the  neglected  orphan  of  the  radio. 
The  Women's  National  Radio  Committee  has  entered  the 
line  of  battle  on  behalf  of  the  child.  It  has  set  down  a  defi- 
nite scale  of  judgment  before  it  will  lend  the  seal  of  approval 
to  a  chidren's  radio  program.  Consider  these  demands:  (i) 
Dignity  of  presentation;  (2)  freedom  from  objectionable 
slang;  (3)  no  talking  down  to  children;  (4)  no  stilted  lan- 
guage; (5)  genuine  informational  material  which  stimu- 
lates the  mind;  (6)  freedom  from  too  exciting  incidents 
which  are  likely  to  arouse  a  nervous  reaction;  (7)  freedom 
from  objectionable  advertising,  box-top  and  premium  offers. 

It  is  agreed  that  there  is  something  fundamental  "beneath 
the  child's  craving  for  exciting  episodes,  gangsterism,  terri- 
fying, unreal  and  impossible  adventures,  ghosts,  blood  and 
thunder  melodrama,  sentimental  love,  and  harrowing  mys- 
teries. Increased  nervousness,  fingernail  biting,  and  general 
discord  were  also  blamed  on  this  "blood-curdling  bunk"  by 
parents  who  felt  and  hoped  that  it  would  soon  be  perma- 
nently tuned  out  of  young  America's  auditory  reach. 

One  program  of  "The  Shadow"  had  a  demented  doctor 
draining  blood  from  his  patients  so  that  he  could  sell  it 
at  a  neat  profit.  Nice  sound  effect  on  the  children! 

The  parent  may  disapprove  of  these  excitements:  the  psy- 
chologist regards  them  as  forms  of  vicarious  adventure  and 
substitute  experiences  for  which  the  child  feels  an  inner 
need.  An  analysis  of  the  reason  why  The  Women's  National 
Radio  Committee  rejects  certain  broadcasts  as  unfit  indicates 
that  there  is  something  rotten  in  the  state  of  children's 
radio.  These  sore  spots  might  be  summarized  as  follows: 
Material  too  exciting  to  the  nervous  system;  too  much  action 
crowded  into  a  fifteen  minute  period;  speech  of  the  charac- 
ters unrefined,  bad  models,  too  rapid;  abnormal  situations 

152  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

beyond  the  range  of  children's  activities;  coinage  of  slang 
phrases  deliberately  introduced;  a  condescension  in  the  gen- 
eral tone  of  the  program  that  insults  the  intelligence  of  the 
average  child;  a  climax  that  carries  over,  leaving  the  child 
in  an  over-excited  state  at  the  close  of  the  broadcast. 

Irene  Wicker  has  consistently  won  honors  as  one  of  radio's 
finest  story  tellers  for  children.  Her  art  lies  in  her  ability  to 
make  entertaining  what  most  radio  performers  make  dull. 
Her  speech  is  mingled  with  songs  of  which  she  has  composed 
several  hundred.  No  one  can  hold  the  air  so  long  without 
combing  the  field  for  interesting  subject  matter.  The  Singing 
Lady's  research  has  taken  her  into  the  realm  of  nursery 
jingles;  true  stories  based  on  historical  facts;  dramatizations 
of  fairy  tales;  imaginative  journeys  to  the  sun,  the  moon, 
the  stars;  travel  adventures  of  real  children;  true  stories  of 
famous  characters;  stories  about  man,  and  dogs  that  point 
out  their  devotion  one  to  the  other. 

The  secret  of  Miss  Wicker's  success  lies  in  her  personality. 
She  has  the  gift  of  a  born  story-teller.  She  seeks  to  capture 
the  child's  heart.  Above  all,  it  is  the  voice  and  song  that  carry 
sympathy,  sincerity,  warmth.  Her  power  comes  from  an  en- 
thusiasm which  children  feel.  Her  words  come  as  eagerly  as 
a  child's. 

In  the  early  days  of  the  radio  flocks  of  uncles,  aunts,  sand- 
men, big  brothers  and  sisters  took  possession  of  the  micro- 
phone to  tell  fairy  tales  and  bedtime  stories.  Most  of  these 
programs  were  amateur  mold.  Radio  soon  discovered  a  more 
violent  approach  through  blood  and  thunder  sketches,  ad- 
venture tales,  and  serial  yarns  that  made  the  heart  leap. 

In  London  uncles  made  their  early  appearance.  Uncle  Jeff 
would  sit  down  at  the  piano  and  reel  off  tune  after  tune, 
while  many  of  them  invented  out  of  their  own  heads  as 
they  rattled  along  the  keys.  Uncle  Rex  would  join  in  with 
songs,  and  Uncle  Caractacus  told  stories  of  his  own  devis- 


ing.  The  three  uncles  were  very  shortly  joined  by  Miss  Cecil 
Dixon  who  became  known  as  Aunt  Sophie. 

Uncle  Don  is  regarded  as  the  Dean  of  children's  pro- 
grams. He  began  broadcasting  in  1927  and  is  still  on  the  air. 
He  estimates  that  he  has  broadcast  some  five  thousand  pro- 
grams. His  manner  is  quite  the  antithesis  of  The  Singing 
Lady.  His  formula  is  generally  that  of  a  Director  of  a  club 
which  the  radio  listeners  may  join.  His  hearty  laugh  is  syn- 
thetic which  is  a  polite  word  for  "phoney." 

Captain  Tim  Healy  who  appeared  over  NBC,  spun  fas- 
cinating spy  yarns  which  attracted  the  imagination  of  the 
youth.  By  means  of  his  radio  club  he  enrolled  over  three 
million  boys  and  girls  in  his  Radio  Stamp  club.  He  told  the 
story  "behind  the  stamp."  His  voice  was  fresh  and  hearty. 
His  gusto  impressed  boys  as  well  as  girls  that  he  was  a  he- 
man.  "Youngsters  resent  being  talked  down  to,"  he  ex- 
plained. "They  are  dead  set  against  announcers  overdoing 
their  sales  talk.  They  dismiss  extravagant  statements  with  a 
terse,  'just  a  lot  of  hooey'." 

The  clamor  for  better  children's  programs  has  at  last 
aroused  the  broadcasters.  They  could  not  afford  to  ignore 
the  organized  appeal  from  all  parents'  organizations.  The 
net-works  undertook  experiments  to  derive  a  more  happy 
formula  for  children's  programs.  Both  NBC  and  CBS  offered 
prizes  in  a  national  competition  for  the  best  children's 

The  public  realized  that  children's  programs,  if  left  to 
the  haphazard  plan  of  sponsors,  cannot  hope  for  sudden  im- 
provement. It  is  vicious  in  principle  to  impress  children 
with  an  obligation  to  buy  merchandise  in  order  to  keep  alive 
a  program  they  enjoy. 

Opposition  forces  have  already  resulted  in  the  formation 
of  committees  to  evaluate  programs,  to  engage  in  research, 
carry  on  psychological  studies,  and  to  present  the  experi- 
mental programs.  It  is  recognized  that  the  problem  of  chil- 

154  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

dren's  programs  is  interlinked  with  our  social  life,  making 
the  closest  co-operation  necessary.  A  joint  committee  formed 
in  1933  is  a  forerunner  of  this  new  approach  which  takes 
the  parenthood  of  America  into  consultation.  This  body  con- 
sists of  representatives  of  the  American  Library  Associa- 
tion, Progressive  Education  Association,  and  The  Child 
Study  Association  of  America.  Its  first  aim  is  to  crystallize 
public  interest,  in  the  recommendations  of  parents'  groups, 
educational  boards,  civic  institutions,  and  other  organiza- 
tions concerned  in  the  welfare  of  the  child. 

There  will  be  a  tough  time  ahead,  trying  to  educate  the 
sponsor  by  way  of  the  advertising  manager.  Broadcasting 
companies  are  more  amenable  and  cannot  ignore  the  de- 
mand for  experimental  programs  that  represent  the  best 
thought  of  the  educator. 

Sponsor  programs  for  children  in  which  children  perform 
at  best  offer  poor  models  for  the  youth  to  emulate.  The 
Horn  &  Hardhart  Sunday  Morning  Hour  is  just  such  a  slap- 
happy  medley  of  kid  specialties  in  which  children  evidently 
can  do  nothing  more  than  indulge  in  taps,  accordion  and  sax 
specialties  and  ape  the  sexy  torch  songs  of  their  elders.  People 
write  in,  vote  for  the  child  whose  performance  they  liked 
best.  The  next  week  that  child  gets  the  cake. 

The  Question  Bee  conducted  for  CBS  by  Nila  Mack  is  a 
model  of  propriety.  Children  make  up  the  audience.  Milton 
J.  Cross  performs  in  the  role  of  em  cee  for  a  kiddie  program 
entitled  "Raising  Your  Parents,"  and  displays  his  native  gift 
for  bringing  out  the  best  in  children.  Here  he  considers  with 
the  youngsters  such  problems  as  inferiority  complexes,  over- 
active  imaginations,  comic  strips,  co-operation  with  brothers 
and  sisters  in  the  same  household.  What  a  wise  papa  to  take 
these  problems  off  mother's  hands! 

One  of  the  oldest  children's  programs  is  Madge  Tucker's 
"Coast  to  Coast  on  a  Bus,"  directed  for  NBC  since  1924  and 
still  running  strong.  The  peculiar  charm  of  "The  Lady  Next 

LISTEN    MY    CHILDREN  1  155 

Door,"  as  she  is  called  makes  Miss  Tucker  an  actress  in  the 
roles  she  originates,  writes,  and  directs  for  the  juvenile  artists 
she  has  on  her  roster. 

Irving  Caesar,  the  song  writer  introduces  a  new  note  in 
his  Songs  of  Safety,  written  in  the  ballad  idiom  of  children. 
He  has  done  altruistic  work  in  this  field. 

In  July  1940  was  inaugurated  over  NBC  a  "Quizz  Kids" 
program  in  the  manner  of  "Information  Please"  in  which 
the  experts  are  children  from  five  to  fifteen,  vying  for  Alka 
Seltzer's  prize  of  one  hundred  dollars  worth  of  U.  S.  Bonds. 
The  trio  of  youthful  experts  attracted  the  attention  of  the 
nation,  spelling  "heterogeneous,"  "bourgeois,"  and  "antima- 
cassar" with  definitions  and  identifying,  "hog  butcher  to  the 
world,"  and  recounting  in  full  the  myth  of  Arachne.  Normal 
kids  exciting  the  admiration  of  man,  woman  and  child. 
And  do  children  love  it! 

Experiments  to  determine  whether  or  not  young  school 
children  enjoy  music  that  has  an  educational  value  were  con- 
ducted sometime  ago  at  the  Lincoln  School,  Columbia  Uni- 
versity, by  members  of  the  Junior  Program  Department 
of  the  National  Music  League.  Music  educators  met  for  a 
round-table  discussion  after  the  concert  and  agreed  that 
children  have  an  "innate  ability"  to  appreciate  the  finest 
in  music,  but  must  be  educated  to  it  gradually.  The  charge 
is  made  that  this  "innate  ability"  is  neglected  by  the 

Leonard  Liebling,  the  distinguished  editor  of  the  "Musical 
Courier"  is  of  the  opinion  that  "Some  of  the  major  sym- 
phony orchestras  give  special  broadcasts  for  children,  but 
such  concerts  are  few  and  far  between.  As  the  music-lovers 
of  the  future  are  the  youngsters  of  today,  it  would  seem 
that  more  attention  should  be  paid  to  their  tonal  education. 

"There  is,  of  course,  the  Damrosch  course,  but  it  comes 
during  school  hours  and  figures  as  education  rather  than  en- 
joyment. The  period  between  five  and  seven  o'clock  usually 

156  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

finds  children  at  home,  when  they  are  furnished  with  one  or 
two  exceptions  chiefly  with  mystery  and  other  thriller  pro- 
grams, silly  serials,  trashy  songs  that  are  discounted  by  even 
infantile  intelligence,  and  in  fact  with  nearly  everything  ex- 
cept the  best  music." 

And  Now  the  Drama 

Sufficient  study  has  not  been  given  to  children's  plays  as 
an  educational  medium  for  radio.  A  great  many  failures  of 
children's  theaters  of  the  air  have  been  based  on  the  false 
notion  of  the  mentality  of  their  audience.  The  plays  have 
wavered  between  two  extremes  of  the  fairy-like  type,  and 
the  attempt  to  make  sermons  of  what  should  be  pure  enter- 
tainment which  the  child  resents.  Programs  should  be  of 
interest  to  boys  and  girls  between  the  ages  of  four  and 
sixteen.  No  one  can  cover  the  age  span  of  such  an  audience, 
but  a  varied  program  could  have  mass  appeal.  The  plays 
may  have  an  adult  cast,  a  juvenile  cast,  or  a  mixed  cast.  The 
one  hundred  and  twenty-seven  theaters  of  the  Jnnior 
Leagues  can  well  give  thought  to  radio  as  a  medium  for 
their  expression. 

What  to  Do 

Angelo  Patri,  the  educator,  advises  parents  to  share  the 
radio  with  children:  "Listen  with  them.  Don't  impose 
grown-up's  programs  on  children  under  twelve  years  of  age 
because  they  do  not  understand  them.  Turn  off  the  pro- 
grams which  seem  to  harm  the  children  and  write  to  the 
sponsors  immediately.  Don't  expect  the  Government  to  do 
for  you  what  you  can  do  with  a  movement  of  the  finger,  a 
note  with  a  stamp." 

It  has  been  established  by  many  studies  that  children 
can  be  trained  to  exercise  nicer  discriminations,  and  that 
the  way  to  this  end  is  not  by  direct  fiat  of  the  parent  whose 


tastes  are  mature.  The  fault  lies  with  the  sorry  alternatives 
that  children's  programs  at  present  offer. 

An  eight-point  formula  was  presented  for  children's  pro- 
grams at  a  meeting  of  the  Radio  Council  on  Children's 
Programs  and  the  representatives  of  the  NAB  in  1940.  It 
provided  that  children's  programs  be  entertaining,  dramatic 
with  reasonable  suspense,  possess  high  artistic  quality  and 
integrity,  express  correct  English  and  diction,  appeal  to  the 
child's  sense  of  humor,  and  be  within  the  scope  of  the  child's 
imagination,  as  well  as  stress  human  relations  for  coopera- 
tive living  and  intercultural  understanding  and  apprecia- 
tion. Some  task! 

The  Council  was  formed  to  bring  about  better  children's 
programs,  and  is  composed  of  the  representatives  of  five  of 
the  largest  women's  organizations  in  the  country  with  head- 
quarters at  45  Rockefeller  Plaza,  New  York. 

Upon  whom  does  the  responsibility  for  children's  pro- 
grams rest — parent,  broadcaster  or  sponsor?  There  has  been 
a  good  deal  of  passing  the  buck.  The  Ladies  Home  Journal 
reports  that  a  majority  of  the  women  of  America  believe 
that  "It's  up  to  the  radio  stations,  not  to  the  parents  to 
protect  children  from  programs  that  are  too  exciting  or 
overstimulating."  With  radio  so  accessible  to  children  out- 
side as  well  as  inside  homes,  mothers  find  it  impossible  to 
supervise  children's  habits. 

Responsibility  rests  with  the  networks  and  the  managers 
of  local  stations.  The  FCC  should  exercise  a  measure  of 
control  through  its  power  to  refuse  to  renew  the  broadcast- 
ing license.  Best  of  all  is  the  crystallized  public  opinion  that 
affects  the  public  interest. 

Carrie  Lillie  who  directs  WMCA'S  juvenile  programs 
claims  that  children  have  been  brought  up  on  blood  and 
thunder  tales  for  centuries,  and  points  out  the  horrors  con- 
tained in  nursery  rhymes  about  horrible  giants,  persecuted 
princesses,  the  unfortunate  wives  of  Bluebeard,  without  any 

158  RAPE   OF   RADIO 

particular  ill-effects.  She  opines  that  the  young  American 
listener  could  not  be  thrilled  by  any  milder  variety  after 
an  acquaintance  with  America's  own  system  of  gangsters, 
kidknapping  and  lynching.  If  the  children  had  the  power 
to  know  the  right  from  the  wrong,  this  might  be  all  right. 

A  new  type  of  fairy  tale  is  being  evolved  in  the  United 
States,  in  which  the  characters  jump  in  rocket  ships  from 
planet  to  planet,  use  death  rays  and  other  creations  of  super 
science,  says  Clemence  Dane,  the  English  writer.  Buck 
Rogers  makes  it  possible  to  be  projected  into  the  twenty- 
fifth  century  to  the  planet  Jupiter. 

Always  "The  Lone  Ranger"  is  the  hero  of  mystery  ad- 
venture. He  follows  the  ranchers,  villains,  outlaws,  spies  and 
dynamiters  across  the  prairies  and  into  secret  caves. 
Parents  approve  the  program  because  there  is  no  boy  in 
trouble,  left  tied  up  by  the  cannibals.  (The  boy  projects  him- 
self into  the  role  of  hero  arid  cannot  sleep.)  "The  Lone 
Ranger"  is  on  the  side  of  the  right  and  never  fails  to  help 
the  underdog.  Few  programs  have  had  the  success  of  "The 
Lone  Ranger."  Nightly  he  rides  the  kilocycles  hurrying 
toward  virtue  and  trampling  crime  and  criminals  under 

Shirley  Temple  has  admitted  that  "The  Lone  Ranger" 
is  her  favorite  program  and  Mrs.  Roosevelt,  wife  of  the 
President,  wrote  in  her  column:  "The  other  evening  I 
offered  to  read  aloud  to  Buzz  until  bedtime,  but  there  is  a 
program  on  the  air  called  'The  Lone  Ranger,'  which  seems 
to  be  entirely  satisfactory."  But  to  whom,  Mrs.  Roosevelt 
did  not  say. 

Remember  that  adults  take  to  the  juvenile  stuff.  "The 
Lone  Ranger"  started  as  a  show  for  the  youngsters,  but  the 
grown-ups  are  probably  just  as  ardent  listeners.  The  wide 
appeal  of  "The  Lone  Ranger"  for  children  is  not  a  matter 
of  guesswork.  Before  a  program  is  taken  to  the  studio,  Fran 
Striker,  the  author  tries  it  out  on  his  two  sons,  eight  and  six. 


"Superman"  comes  on  the  air  with  a  shrill,  shrieking 
edict  (the  combination  of  a  high  wind  and  a  bomb  whine 
recorded  during  the  Spanish  war.  Voices  hail  him:  "Up  in 
the  sky— look!  It's  a  bird.  .  .  .  It's  a  plane.  .  .  .  It's 
SUPERMAN!"  Mothers  have  their  eye  on  him.  His  occa- 
sional rocket  and  space  jaunts  are  too  improbable  for  the 
Child  Study  Association  of  America.  Superman  has  a  sound 
effect  about  every  four  lines. 

The  new  Dick  Tracy  program  went  on  the  air  endorsed 
by  the  Clergy  League  of  America.  The  Minneapolis  College 
Women's  Club,  a  branch  of  the  American  Association  of 
University  Women,  went  so  far  as  to  petition  "those  people 
responsible  for  the  production  of  the  radio  skit  called 
'Orphan  Annie,'  praying  that  the  sponsor  remove  objection- 
able features  in  the  overdrawn  dramatic  crime  episodes,  the 
raucous,  unnatural  voices  of  the  actors,  and  the  coarse 
vocabulary,  or  better  still  to  substitute  therefore  programs 
to  stimulate  the  children's  imagination  in  the  right  direc- 
tion." An  identical  petition  was  drawn  up  concerning  the 
"Skippy"  program.  The  sponsors  turned  a  deaf  ear  to  these 
petitions  and  the  programs  went  gruesomely  on. 

Educational  Solutions 

Kurt  London,  in  his  highly  revealing  analysis  of  radio 
in  the  USSR,  makes  the  claim  that  the  quality  of  children's 
programs  in  Russia  is  very  high:  in  fact,  it  is  relatively 
higher  than  the  "wireless  for  adults." 

The  guiding  principle  of  children's  programs  is  the  influ- 
ence on  education  by  artistic  means.  Programs  are  varied 
to  measure  up  to  the  appropriate  stages  of  childhood.  The 
first  group  includes  children  from  five  to  eight  years  of  age. 
Imagine  synthetic  pieces  composed  of  dramas,  readings  and 
noises  especially  made  for  such  youngsters.  Take  a  typical 

l6o  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

program  by  which  natural  science  is  taught  in  a  naturally 
amusing  way,  by  the  use  of  animal  stories,  or  in  dramatic 

Single  themes  such  as  the  ''Adventures  of  a  Potato,"  per- 
mit the  child  to  catch  a  revelation  of  the  natural  world.  The 
second  group  of  programs  is  meant  for  children  from  eight 
to  eleven  years  of  age.  Each  program  lasts  about  twenty  to 
forty  minutes  and  covers  a  wide  variety:  reading  from  books, 
children's  operas  lasting  about  twenty-five  minutes,  dealing 
with  the  life  and  experiences  of  the  young.  The  third  group 
is  designed  for  children  between  the  ages  of  twelve  and 
fifteen.  Here  the  field  is  widened.  The  radio  authorities 
collaborate  with  the  children's  section  of  a  composers'  asso- 
ciation. The  best  composers  create  special  music  for  chil- 
dren. Broadcast  by  the  literary  and  dramatic  departments 
they  offer  specially  dramatized  versions  of  such  works  as 
Dickens'  "Pickwick  Papers,"  and  Longfellow's  "Hiawatha" 
interspersed  with  music.  True,  the  programs  are  not  free  of 
the  idealism  of  a  Soviet  scheme.  The  life  of  the  pioneers  is 
vividly  portrayed  in  fifteen  broadcasts  every  month.  And 
the  children  themselves  are  drawn  upon  as  participants. 
They  sing  songs  before  the  microphone  and  give  readings. 

The  growing  generation  of  Soviet  youth  is  thus  favored 
with  programs  whose  influence  is  artistic  and  cultural,  and 
even  though  sugared  with  propaganda  at  least  represents  a 
distinctive  appreciation  of  the  needs  of  youth. 

In  1937  "Wilderness  Road"  won  the  award  of  the 
Women's  National  Radio  Committee  as  a  model  children's 
program.  It  was  regarded  as  an  ideal  dramatic  serial  but 
remained  unsponsored.  The  work  of  Richard  Stevenson  and 
Charles  Tazwell,  it  was  a  serial  that  had  its  locale  along  the 
old  "Wilderness  Road"  formerly  known  as  Boone's  Trail. 
The  serial  followed  the  life  of  the  Weston  family — father, 
mother,  three  sons  and  a  daughter,  negro  servant,  a  carrier 
who  brings  mail  and  news  from  the  outside,  and  Daniel 


Boone,  friend  and  protector.  The  thousand  first-prize  serial 
of  NBC  was  entitled  "The  Bravest  of  the  Brave,"  selected  as 
the  most  outstanding  of  seven  hundred  and  forty  scripts  in 
1937.  The  action  revolves  itself  around  the  valiant  acts  of 
men  and  women.  With  Daniel  Boone  as  the  protagonist  not 
a  single  Indian  hit  the  dust.  The  only  Indian  hurt  slipped 
on  a  log. 

It  is  difficult  to  find  the  common  denominator  of  chil- 
dren's interests.  An  exciting  thriller  which  plunges  one  boy 
to  the  verge  of  hysterics  will  create,  in  another  youngster, 
visions  of  power  and  success.  Program  reactions  therefore 
are  of  a  strong  individual  nature. 

Children  do  not  think  much  of  children's  radio  programs. 
The  youthful  listener  is  seldom  interested  in  specially  pre- 
pared programs  for  children. 

Sigmund  Spaeth,  the  music  critic,  finds  that  the  natural 
inclinations  of  children  run  towards  fairly  obvious  music. 
The  survey  conducted  by  Azrial  Izenberg  questioning 
3,445,000  children  in  New  York  City  schools  reveals  that  as 
for  music  learned  over  the  air  eighty-five  per  cent  of  the 
children  learned  dance  songs;  seven  per  cent  picked  up  cow- 
boy melodies;  three  per  cent  theme  melodies;  three  per  cent 
general  melodies;  and  only  two  per  cent  classical  and  semi- 
classical  music. 

A  recent  survey  was  conducted  by  the  Chidren's  Aid 
Society  of  New  York  among  the  ten  thousand  members  of 
its  juvenile  clubs  in  seven  centers.  The  survey  was  made 
among  boys  and  girls  between  the  ages  of  eleven  and  sixteen 
years.  Ninety-two  per  cent  of  the  boys  and  eighty  per  cent 
of  the  girls  gave  the  adult  programs  as  their  first  choice. 
Of  the  children's  programs  the  youngsters  picked  the 
thrillers.  And  if  it  is  feared  young  America  has  no  sense  of 
humor,  it  should  be  recorded  that  of  the  adult  programs 
Eddie  Cantor  topped  the  list,  followed  by  Burns  and  Allen, 
Jack  Benny  and  Dick  Powell. 


r  I  ^HE  Amateur  Hour  has  its  root  deep  in  human  psychol- 
^£_  ogy.  It  captured  the  imagination  of  youth,  stirred  the 
vanity  of  countless  microphonic  aspirants  long  past  youth. 
For  a  time  it  commanded  the  largest  radio  audience.  Why? 
Because  it  gratified  man's  sadistic  sense  for  the  incompetent, 
self-deceived,  self-punishment  meted  to  artists.  It  inflated 
the  hopes  of  an  army  of  crooners,  tap  dancers,  one-man 
bands,  whistlers  and  musical  eccentrics  of  every  variety. 

Major  Bowes  was  a  real  estate  operator  in  San  Francisco 
at  first  interested  in  a  small  chain  of  theaters.  He  soon 
became  a  producer  of  plays.  In  1918,  he  built  the  Capitol 
Theatre  in  New  York,  at  that  time  the  world's  largest 
motion  pitcure  theater,  of  which  he  became  director. 
Appreciating  the  power  of  radio  publicity,  the  Major 
planned  the  Capitol  Family  broadcasts,  which  commenced 
on  November  19,  1922,  with  the  late  S.  L.  ("Roxy")  Rothafel 
as  its  master  of  ceremonies.  Major  Bowes,  himself,  took  over 
these  duties  on  the  radio  on  July  25,  1925.  After  his  entry 
into  radio,  the  Major  continued  his  directorship  of  the 
Capitol  Theatre  and  became  vice-president  of  the  Metro- 
Goldwyn-Mayer  pictures.  As  part  of  his  duties  for  MGM, 
he  was  director  of  their  local  station,  WHN,  and  when  an 
amateur  hour  was  started,  Major  Bowes  undertook  direction. 

The  idea  took  some  time  to  catch  on  before  it  reached 
the  networks.  It  has  its  prototype  in  the  amateur  hour  of 
the  vaudeville  theater  where  audiences  could  view  their 
brassy  judgment  by  crying  out  "Get  the  Hook."  With  the 
assistance  of  Perry  Charles,  Bowes  hit  upon  the  idea  of 


MAJOR    BOWES,    CHIEF    MOGUL    OF    THE    AMATEUR    HOUR     163 

subjecting  the  amateur  performer  to  a  razzing  that  would 
send  the  audience  into  peals  of  laughter.  Whenever  a  bad 
amateur  spoiled  the  show,  Perry  was  inspired  to  use  the 
same  device  heard  at  the  ringside, — the  gong.  Major  Bowes 
invested  the  proceedings  with  the  qualities  which  at  the  end 
of  a  year  made  it  the  dominant  program  in  the  New  York 
area.  A  local  station,  one-fiftieth  as  powerful  as  the  com- 
peting network  station  in  Greater  New  York,  commanded 
an  audience  estimated  at  80  per  cent  of  the  listeners  in  the 
metropolitan  district. 

Let  us  look  to  the  elements  that  made  the  Amateur  Hour 
of  Major  Bowes  rise  in  the  enviable  scale  of  listener-interest. 
In  1935,  the  Chase  and  Sanborn  Company  angled  for  the 
program  as  a  radio  feature  to  be  aired  over  the  networks. 
They  looked  to  Major  Bowes,  who  resigned  the  management 
of  WHN  and  took  his  Amateur  Hour  to  the  portals  of  NBC 
on  an  offer  of  five  thousand  dollars  weekly.  Thus,  Major 
Bowes'  Amateur  Hour  was  ushered  into  national  promi- 
nence along  with  the  insistent  plea  that  the  purchase  of 
Chase  and  Sanborn's  dated  coffee  made  good  Samaritans 
out  of  the  purchasers  because  the  program  held  out  the 
helping  hand  to  native  American  talent. 

The  rest  is  history.  Major  Bowes'  Amateur  Hour  rose  to 
stellar  heights  as  Number  One  program  of  the  air,  a  shining 
example  which  brought  into  being  hundreds  of  lesser  lights. 
It  began  the  stampede  of  youth  from  every  corner  of  the 
land  into  the  citadels  of  NBC,  where  once  admitted,  they 
waited  in  a  long  narrow  corridor,  the  chance  for  the  micro- 
phone audition  which  would  decide  their  fate.  Under  the 
aegis  of  the  Bowes  banner  this  broadcast  leaped  into  na- 
tional fame.  Late  in  1936  Chrysler  took  over  the  sponsorship 
and  the  broadcasts  were  moved  to  the  CBS  radio  theater. 

The  dignified  and  pompous  old  Major  reached  his  high 
peak  in  1937  when  radio  surveys  indicated  that  about  40 
per  cent  of  the  nation's  radio  sets  were  tuned  in  on  his 

164  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

programs  each  week.  From  that  time  on,  his  Crosley  rating 
began  to  dwindle  down  to  about  half,  and  yet  remained 
high  enough  to  belie  the  prediction  that  the  amateur  pro- 
gram would  sniffle  out. 

Network  broadcasts  of  Major  Bowes'  Amateur  Hour  began 
in  1935.  Up  to  the  middle  of  October,  1937,  the  listeners 
made  over  two  and  a  half  million  telephone  calls  in  voting, 
according  to  statistics  compiled  by  the  American  Telephone 
&  Telegraph  Company.  Tampa,  Florida,  delivered  the 
largest  voters  to  any  one  amateur.  Listeners  in  that  city  cast 
45,273  votes  for  a  local  boy  singer.  In  New  York  more 
than  one  hundred  and  fifty  telephone  operators  are  busy 
recording  the  votes  during  the  hour.  The  American  public 
is  afforded  the  right  to  vote  for  the  best  performers  by  tele- 
phone, and  a  special  key  city  is  honored  by  having  a  local 
telephone  number  put  on  a  trunk  line  leading  direct  to 
the  NBC  studio  in  New  York. 

The  sponsor  works  in  his  exploitation  and  advertising. 
The  three  or  four  top  performers  at  every  weekly  broadcast 
were  employed  to  tour  the  country  from  Maine  to  Cali- 
fornia. These  vaudeville  units  were  known  as  "Major  Bowes 
Amateur  Hour."  The  minimum  pay  was  fifty  dollars  per 
week  and  transportation;  the  maximum  pay,  one  hundred 
and  fifty  dollars.  Variety  estimated  that  Major  Bowes  cleared 
for  himself  and  his  personal  organization  over  a  million 
dollars  out  of  these  units  in  1935. 

When  a  city  is  selected  to  be  the  honor  city,  a  representa- 
tive of  the  sponsor's  advertising  agency  contacts  the  local 
exchange  in  advance  and  makes  the  arrangements.  The 
honor  cities  are  selected  by  the  sponsor's  advertising  depart- 
ment each  week.  It  is  usually  done  according  to  popula- 
tion. One  exception  has  been  made  to  this  rule.  New  York 
has  never  been  on  it.  The  city  selected  is  linked  by  direct 
telephone  long  distance  wire  to  the  switchboard  under  the 
stage  of  the  Columbia  Playhouse  in  New  York  where  the 


votes  are  tabulated  and  sent  up  to  the  Major  for  announce- 

There  were  more  than  two  hundred  other  amateur  hours 
scattered  over  the  country,  but  none  directed  by  such  a 
genius  of  voice  as  that  of  Major  Bowes.  When  the  Major 
transferred  the  Amateur  Hour  from  WHN  to  the  networks 
an  amateur  hour  was  retained  at  the  local  station.  It  was 
necessary  to  find  a  substitute.  Even  with  Major  Bowes  at 
his  side  Norman  Brokenshire  was  quite  inadequate  in  voice 
and  spirit  to  be  a  Master  of  Ceremonies  in  such  a  program. 

The  Major  starts  with  the  right  premise — an  appeal  to 
sympathy.  Variety  intimated  that  his  agents  scanned  local 
amateur  talent  for  the  value  of  their  sob  story  build  up  even 
before  they  were  auditioned  for  their  specialty.  The  dialogue 
is  thus  consistently  written  to  bring  out  the  peculiar  talent 
in  voice  that  drips  with  sympathetic  timbre  and  is  enriched 
by  fatherly  resonance.  He  chats  with  an  informal  ease.  He 
shows  an  extraordinary  precision.  He  knows  all  about  the 
music-masters,  the  population  of  Katonah,  the  great  in  his- 
tory and  story. 

Major  Bowes,  in  defense  of  his  program,  speaks  of  "this 
new  and  higher-type  of  serious  amateur  added  to  the  steady 
stream  of  self-taught  and  underprivileged  amateurs."  His 
point  of  view  is  that  of  the  showman  who  seeks  to  give 
improved  balance  to  the  program,  rather  than  from  the 
altruistic  standpoint  of  one  nurturing  real  talent. 

Michael  J.  Porter,  former  aircaster  for  the  American, 
said:  "For  every  one  of  the  scant  two  dozen  amateurs  who  set 
foot  on  the  road  to  glory,  hundreds  have  turned  their  weary 
steps  homeward  or  to  the  breadlines  or  to  the  Travelers 
Aid.  Practically  all  of  them  took  the  cure.  The  amateurs 
seem  to  have  made  the  astonishing  discovery  that  there  was 
practically  nothing  to  write  home  about  even  after  the 
impresarios  supplied  the  stamps." 

There  were  dark  rumors  that  many  of  the  contestants 

l66  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

were  actually  professional  actors,  singers,  instrumentalists 
who  appeared  under  the  guise  of  amateurs  for  less  money 
than  they  would  receive  for  professional  work. 

A  statistician  figured  that  the  chance  of  acceptance  on  the 
Hour  is  one  in  seventy  thousand,  and  at  the  end  of  it  all 
lay  the  only  certainty  of  a  five  dollar  bill  and  one  perform- 
ance. The  Literary  Digest  estimated  that  the  chances  that 
any  amateur  performer  would  click  professionally  as  a 
national  find  was  two  hundred  thousand  to  three. 

The  abnormal  influx  of  amateurs  into  the  City  of  New 
York  taxed  the  relief  authorities  and  made  it  necessary  for 
the  Major  to  restrict  the  applicants. 

It  is  a  kindly  voice  that  greets  the  amateur.  The  speech 
pattern  is  that  of  a  loving  uncle  whose  solicitude  is  enlivened 
by  a  chuckle.  The  voice  kept  under  restraint  warms  the 
heart  of  the  amateur  with  the  glow  of  newly  discovered 
sympathy.  But  alas!  the  gong  of  the  Major  often  strikes 
chords  of  despair.  Major  Bowes  has  achieved  a  manner  that 
to  the  uninitiated  sounds  informal.  To  the  practiced  ear, 
his  folksy  and  ingratiating  approach  is  synthetic.  It  is  all 
part  of  the  show  business  to  sound  humanly  interested  in 
your  charges. 

In  thirty  seconds,  avuncular  and  bland  inflections  estab- 
lish a  relationship  between  the  performer  and  the  listening 
audience.  This  is  indeed  an  art  in  itself.  Listeners  receive 
the  impression  that  it  is  an  unrehearsed  program.  Amateurs 
have  glib  answers,  and  the  repartee  appears  deftly  dove- 
tailed. However,  these  programs  represent  most  careful 
showmanship  and  preparation.  The  amateur  never  reads  his 
lines,  and  the  Major  sits  behind  a  table  with  a  box-like 
edge  which  effectively  hides  his  cards  and  memoranda  from 
the  visible  audience 

New  technique  covers  up  the  sadism  by  a  sentence  or 
two  of  kind-hearted  encouragement  after  getting  a  laugh  by 


kindly  ridicule.  "What  are  you  going  to  sing?"  asks  Major 
Bowes.  "It's  a  sin  to  tell  a  lie  in  A  flat,"  is  the  reply. 

A  slender  girl  reveals  that  she  is  a  prize-fighter  by  profes- 
sion— forty-seven  knockouts  to  her  credit.  And  she  adds,  "I 
weigh  a  hundred  and  thirty  stripped."  "I'll  take  your  word 
for  it,"  says  the  Major  graciously. 

There  are  many  variations  of  the  amateur  hour.  The 
recent  trend  sought  the  dramatization  of  authentic  and  ex- 
citing adventures  of  everyday  people.  Their  best  form  was 
the  command  appearance  program  of  Kate  Smith,  who 
combed  the  agencies  of  the  land  to  discover  men  and  women 
who  had  performed  heroic  deeds  and  had  not  received 
public  recognition.  Thus,  she  dramatized  the  heroism  of 
one,  Martin  Wolgamuth  of  West  Orange,  a  bus  driver  who 
risked  his  life  to  save  his  passengers  from  a  mad  dog.  The 
program  would  stand  by  itself  as  a  piece  of  dramatization, 
but  when  Kate  Smith  hands  the  hero  or  heroine  five 
hundred  dollars  a  touch  of  humanity  is  added. 

The  Metropolitan  Opera  House  found  a  rich  field  in  the 
auditions  of  amateurs.  Sponsored  by  Sherwin-Williams 
Paint,  many  candidates  found  a  means  of  being  heard.  In 
1938,  these  auditions  began  and  have  continued  ever  since. 
The  Metropolitan  is  genuinely  or  half-interested  in  the 
affair.  Meanwhile  the  amateur  singer  keeps  knocking  at  the 
door  of  opporunity. 

The  great  success  of  the  Amateur  Hour  has  been  a 
puzzling  phenomenon  to  the  English.  It  was  initiated  over 
the  British  system,  but  did  not  survive  long. 

The  Outlet  for  Talent 

The  larger  stations  readily  receive  for  airing  such  pro- 
grams as  are  prepared  by  quasi-public  or  endowed  institu- 
tions. It  is  part  of  the  public  service  the  broadcasters  are 
presumed  to  offer  as  a  condition  of  their  franchise.  Since 

l68  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

these  programs  carry  an  endorsement  of  the  institution,  the 
performers  generally  are  types  selected  by  the  faculties  of 
music,  drama,  and  the  allied  arts  of  composition. 

In  similar  fashion,  the  Radio  Arts  Guild  of  each  com- 
munity could  serve  as  an  examining  committee,  for  the 
amateurs  without  formal  training  in  schools  or  academies. 
The  local  stations  which  air  these  programs  can  have  faith 
that  definite  standards  have  been  followed  in  their  selection. 
The  promise  of  lucrative  contracts  should  never  be  held  out 
alluringly  to  the  amateur.  Talent  has  a  way  of  rising  to  the 
surface,  and  in  the  same  way  that  Hollywood  has  its  agents 
scouting  for  talent,  so  the  extraordinary  choice  in  separate 
individual  communities  might  be  heralded  by  appearances 
over  the  networks. 

Such  a  system  requires  altruism  on  the  part  of  broad- 
casters. The  broadcasters  cannot  afford  to  resent  the  sug- 
gestions of  Radio  Arts  Guilds  as  obtrusive.  Public  sentiment 
once  organized  has  a  potent  way  of  making  itself  known  to 
the  commercial  broadcasters  who  are  on  tip-toe  to  please 
their  public. 

The  listening  public,  through  its  organized  committees, 
might  meet  in  convention  at  least  once  yearly  in  Washing- 
ton, D.  C.  A  Central  Listeners'  Bureau  might  be  set  up  in 
the  National  capital  functioning  through  the  local  bureaus. 
The  rights  and  privileges  of  the  amateur  might  well  be  an 
important  agenda  in  its  discussions. 

Better  yet,  if  the  Central  Listeners'  Bureau  could  acquire 
the  license  and  funds  for  maintenance  of  a  model  broadcast- 
ing station,  it  could  indulge  in  experiments  to  its  heart's 
content,  blazing  a  trail  for  the  commercial  broadcaster  to 

Directing  the  Amateur  Show 

There  is  a  trick  in  showmanship  in  running  an  amateur 
show.  Much  depends  on  the  director.  The  director  must 


know  how  to  spot  and  spread  his  acts  over  the  bill  so  that  the 
hour  is  consistently  diversified. 

Jay  Flippen  entered  into  the  breach  as  em  cee  with  an 
appropriate  stir  of  low-boisterous  comedy.  This  was  the 
traditional  atmosphere  of  all  amateur  shows.  Any  attempt 
to  make  it  genteel  robbed  the  show  of  its  caste.  Alton  Cook 
calls  Jay  Flippen  a  "great  wit,  a  veritable  encyclopedia  of 
what  great  wits  have  been  saying  for  generations."  The 
em  cee  propounds  a  question.  While  the  amateur  racks  his 
mind  for  an  answer,  the  em  cee  grabs  a  gag  or  two  from  his 
bag  and  jovially  sends  the  audience  into  mirth  and  the 
amateur  into  song. 

The  amateur  hour  has  reformed  its  old  habits.  Pointed 
and  embarrassing  questions  are  avoided.  The  personal 
approach  has  more  smoothness.  The  flow  of  wit  is  more 
merciful.  Solemnity,  it  was  discovered,  is  not  germane  to 
amateur  shows.  Radio  itself  is  responsible  for  the  growth 
in  critical  feelings  of  audiences  and  audiences  are  barome- 
ters of  successful  performance  with  harmonica,  bazooka, 
xylophone,  tap-dancing,  and  top  notes. 

Radio  pioneers  usually  result  in  a  flood  of  imitations. 
Imitation  becomes  the  sincerest  flattery.  The  amateur  hour 
soon  became  the  greatest  vogue  in  radio. 

Eddie  Cantor  once  went  into  an  amateur  night  when  he 
was  unknown  and  got  the  hook.  In  an  interview  with 
Morris  Markey,  in  The  New  Yorker,,  Major  Bowes  told  how 
he  protected  himself  against  those  angry  lads  who,  when 
they  heard  the  gong,  might  cut  loose  his  resentment  into  the 
mike.  "To  protect  ourselves,  I  have  a  good  strong-arm  man 
who  hustles  them  up  to  the  mike  and  down  again.  They 
always  signal  before  letting  the  bell  go,  and  he  is  ready  to 
grab  the  poor  boob  before  he  can  say  anything  about  it. 
We've  never  had  any  profanity  yet." 

Major  Bowes  springs  a  surprise  by  having  famous  per- 
sonalities in  the  audience  take  a  bow  before  the  mike.  It's 

170  RAPE   OF   RADIO 

fun  for  the  public  to  have  an  industrial  nabob  step  up  and 
play  the  harmonica,  or  rip  a  tune  out  from  an  old  saw. 

The  Feen-A-Mint  National  Amateur  Night  was  captained 
by  Ray  Perkins.  The  money  prize  was  alluring.  Fred  Allen's 
first  prize  was  a  fifty  dollar  bill  with  a  week's  contract  for  a 
stage  appearance  at  the  Roxy  Theatre  in  New  York,  and  a 
second  prize  of  twenty-five  dollars. 

Mutual  Broadcasting  System  developed  a  national  ama- 
teur night.  They  soon  abandoned  amateurs  in  all  but  name. 
Fred  Allen's  "Town  Hall  Tonight"  followed  suit  by  throw- 
ing over  its  amateur  portion  of  the  program  to  professional 
talent  as  well,  but  Major  Bowes  program  remains  the  only 
practically  one  hundred  per  cent  amateur  program  on 
the  air. 

Fred  Allen  made  it  known  that  many  of  these  amateurs 
are  more  temperamental  than  the  stars.  "For  sheer  ripsnort- 
ing  temperament,  I'll  take  the  amateurs  any  day.  Some  of 
those  lads  and  lassies,  singers,  pianists,  imitators,  etc.,  could 
give  a  matinee  idol  tips  on  artistic  bombast."  He  tells  the 
story  of  an  Irish  tenor  who  got  mad  because  Fred  called  him 
'Eddie,'  acidly  insisting  that  his  name  was  Mr.  So-and-so. 
An  applicant  who  had  been  successfully  auditioned,  wired 
at  the  last  minute  that  he  would  not  allow  himself  to  appear 
on  a  program  that  featured  such  acts  as  a  "singing  rooster." 

The  amateur  has  been  lured  on  by  press-agent  yarns  of 
sudden  fame  and  fortune.  Amateurs  like  to  learn  that  Kate 
Smith  time  and  time  again  was  told  that  she  was  merely 
wasting  her  energies  by  trying  to  get  into  radio,  or  that  Lily 
Pons  was  once  refused  after  being  auditioned. 

The  variation  of  the  amateur  hour  was  Haven  MacQuar- 
rie's  program,  "Do  You  Want  to  Be  an  Actor?"  The  candi- 
dates were  chosen  from  the  letters  of  application.  They  were 
put  through  an  audition  and  the  impossible  types  were 
dismissed.  The  survivors  were  told  to  come  to  the  studio 

MAJOR    BOWES,    CHIEF    MOGUL    OF    THE    AMATEUR    HOUR     171 

just  before  broadcast  time.  They  were  then  put  through 
their  paces  in  a  hypothetical  drama  before  the  mike. 

The  main  object  of  this  program  was  farce-comedy.  The 
aspiring  amateur  actor  was  made  the  target  for  cheap  wit 
as  he  was  interrupted  with  small  jokes,  to  keep  the  pace 
lively.  When  one  young  lady  said  her  name  was  Betty  C. 
Green,  MacQuarrie  sallied,  "Did  you  see  anything  else?" 
Jokes  like  that  popped  up  during  the  program.  The  pro- 
gram had  some  virtues  because  many  aspirants,  after  hearing 
themselves,  usually  decided  that  acting  was  not  their  right 

The  number  of  those  who  have  traced  their  fame  to  the 
radio  amateur  hour  is  almost  zero.  One  points  to  Doris 
Wester  who  went  into  the  films  and  changed  her  name  to 

Radio  can  become  the  promised  land  of  our  younger, 
gifted  performers,  composers  and  conductors.  Up  to  now 
their  opportunities  have  been  meager.  The  commercially- 
sponsored  amateur  programs  have  exposed  them  to  contempt. 
Sponsors  have  ruled  them  out  in  favor  of  old-established 
names.  Newer  candidates  are  looked  upon  with  suspicion. 
One  cannot  blame  the  sponsors  for  setting  their  sails  to 
popular  consumption.  They  are  primarily  business  men — 
not  philanthropists  interested  in  developing  the  Arts.  Radio 
must  break  away  from  the  position  that  has  put  the  amateur 
hour  into  the  field  of  comedy.  The  artistic  impulse  of  any 
community  can  best  be  expressed  through  radio  art  guilds 
whose  influence  on  radio  programs  can  wield  mighty  influ- 
ence. These  radio  art  guilds  can  take  the  radio  amateur  out 
of  the  Slough  of  Despond,  can  bring  him  out  with  a  new 
impulsation  to  the  hearts  and  the  minds  of  the  youth  of  the 
land  who  are  trying  out  for  self-expression. 

Radio  cries  out  for  new  personalities,  but  its  method  of 
talent  scouting  through  the  avenues  of  amateur  programs 
has  besmirched  its  efforts.  Radio's  greatest  service  to  the 


art  impulse  of  America  will  be  the  promotion  of  neutalent 
irrespective  of  its  origin  or  formal  training. 

These  radio  art  guilds  should  not  ''rush  in  whereangels 
fear  to  tread" — their  course  should  be  guided  by  slcv  and 
judicious  selection,  and  represent  some  sort  of  comromise 
in  tastes.  When  the  community  begins  to  realize  the  ptency 
of  radio  in  its  cultural  aspects  the  time  will  not  b  long 
before  it  calls  into  consultation  those  experts  wh  have 
given  a  life  study  to  the  art  of  self-expression. 

Our  radio  conferences,  instead  of  being  the  voice  c  a  few 
representative  bodies,  can  embrace  a  larger  sphere  c  local 
organizations  which,  in  a  cross-section,  truly  represets  the 
national  voice.  It  is  the  moral  duty  of  those  in  th  know 
to  contribute  those  forces  in  the  community  sphere  which 
will  build  up  popular  agitation  for  a  right  to  air-tme  or 
experimental  programs  that  will  do  credit  to  the  natin. 

The  professional  auditions  of  the  Metropolitan's  Audi- 
tions of  the  Air"  program  might  well  serve  the  raio  art 
guild  as  a  model  in  the  discovery  of  new  talent.  The?  audi- 
tions of  the  Metropolitan  Opera  House  permit  the  public 
to  enjoy  the  privilege  of  hearing  trial  tests  formaV  con- 
ducted in  strictest  privacy  at  the  opera  house.  Its  doctor, 
Edward  Johnson,  is  a  model  em  cee  of  the  air,  with  sauve 
and  subtle  way  of  boosting  the  opera. 

In  a  private  way,  the  concerts  broadcast  by  the  Curtis 
Institute  of  Music,  the  Eastman  School  and  the  Cirinnati 
Conservatory  of  Music  represent  distinct  advances  n  the 
methods  of  radio  audition.  Their  student  orchestras  cham- 
ber music  groups,  composers,  vocal  soloists  and  insmmen- 
talists  have  a  dignified  opportunity  on  the  air. 

The  rising  "Musical  Star"  hour  invites  perfoners  to 
compete  for  the  weekly  cash  prize;  the  successful  corestant 
also  winning  solo  place  on  the  current  program,  ts  im- 
portant contribution  to  the  formula  of  the  amateur  i  radio 
is  the  jury  of  well-known  musicians  who  officiate  in  stecting 

MA  JO.    BOWES,    CHIEF    MOGUL    OF    THE    AMATEUR    HOUR      173 

the  winer  of  the  substantial  money  reward,  which  goes  to 
the  a:  st  whom  it  considers  best  during  the  entire  period. 

Leoard  Leibling,  the  editor  of  Musical  Courier,  stresses 
the  p  blem  of  the  newcomer  in  radio  who  is  told  to  go  out 
and  gc  a  reputation  and  is  left  up  against  a  stone  wall. 

"\V  ere  shall  we  get  it  if  you  won't  give  us  a  chance?" 
was  tc  usual  sensible  question. 

"Tut's  your  affair,  not  ours,"  came  the  final  crusher. 

It  hoped  that  radio  will  change  all  that  to  a  large 
exten  Leonard  Leibling  holds  out  hope  for  the  amateur. 
"Mic:  phone  hour  is  the  chief  discoverer  of  new  talent  and 
estab  her  of  new  name  values.  The  reasons  are  simple — a 
regul;  opera  debut  is  a  rarity,  owing  to  so  few  prominent 
lyrica  organizations.  Solo  concerts  offer  an  ominous  expense 
for  doutantes.  Radio  developed  its  particular  public  con- 
sistin  of  many  millions  of  listeners.  These  changed  condi- 
tions ove  their  own  merit  when  it  is  remembered  that  a 
numbr  of  young  performers  first  achieved  popularity  over 
the  a  before  they  became  regular  features  of  the  concert, 
stage,  nd  opera  houses.  To  mention  those  most  prominent, 
there  re  Helen  Jepson,  and  Nino  Martini  at  the  Metro- 
polit.  and  Deanna  Durbin  in  the  films." 

Radio's  Cinderella. 

CB  instituted  a  series  in  1938  known  as  "Columbia's 
Chor  Quest."  This  was  a  contest  open  to  amateur  choirs, 
chori  s,  and  glee  clubs  whose  members  were  not  twenty- 
five  y  rs  of  age.  The  prizes  offered  were  a  cup  and  a  concert 
tour  ranged  by  the  Columbia  Concerts  Bureau.  Con- 
testai  ;  were  judged  by  Deems  Taylor,  Davison  Taylor, 
direc  r  of  the  music  department  of  the  CBS  program  divi- 
sion, vo  members  of  the  Columbia  Concerts  Corporation, 
and  >r.  John  Finley  Williamson,  founder  of  the  West- 
minstr  Choir  School  of  Princeton,  New  Jersey. 

174  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

The  pronouncement  of  Davison  Taylor  is  significant  of 
a  high  aim  in  amateur  encouragement.  "This  chorus  quest," 
said  Dr.  Taylor,  is  intended  to  promote  through  radio  the 
healthy  interest  in  song  which  is  evidenced  throughout  the 
country.  It  does  not  matter  how  large  or  small  the  com- 
munity from  which  the  choruses  originate,  nor  what  type 
of  music  they  may  be  interested  in.  What  is  most  important 
is  that  rich  talent  is  hidden  in  the  amateur  song-circles  of 
the  United  States,  and  radio  can  help  uncover  and  encour- 
age some  of  this.  Besides  the  formal  winning  of  a  cup,  and 
a  concert  tour,  the  winning  group  will  enjoy  the  equally 
satisfying  reward  of  a  public  hearing  and  popular  approval, 
a  vital  and  necessary  stimulant  for  development.  There  is 
only  one  basis  on  which  this  may  be  earned  and  that  is 


CAN    A    MIKE    TEACH? 

EVERYONE    talks    about    education.    Dr.    Robert    M. 
Hutchins,  President  of  the  University  of  Chicago,  said 
only  recently:  "Except  for  the  weather,  education  is  the  most 
popular  topic  in  America,  not  excluding  money,  murder, 
baseball  and  sex." 

Innumerable  conferences  have  been  held  to  determine 
the  role  of  radio  in  the  scheme  of  national  learning.  The 
problem  remains  unsolved.  The  keenest  minds  have  failed 
to  answer  how  education  shall  be  fashioned  to  compete  with 
Charlie  McCarthy  and  the  "Singing  Lady."  Radio  educa- 
tion is  new.  Classroom  teaching  is  a  vast  business,  involving 
expenditures  of  over  two  and  a  half  billion  dollars,  and 
employing  over  one  and  a  half  million  teachers,  admin- 
istering to  thirty  million  human  beings,  almost  as  many  as 
listen  to  Charlie  McCarthy  on  his  Sunday  hour. 

In  proportion  to  the  vast  sums  spent  on  commercial  pro- 
grams, the  investment  in  radio  education  is  as  millions  to 
pennies.  Let  us  engage  the  problem  of  radio  education  in 
answer  to  five  questions:  (i)  What  are  the  general  aims  of 
radio  education?  (2)  How  shall  teachers  be  trained?  (3)  Can 
radio  provide  education  for  all  different  kinds  of  people? 
(4)  What  subjects  shall  be  included  in  its  curriculum?  (5) 
Does  radio  education  demand  new  pedagogical  methods  to 
be  effective? 

i.  What  are  the  aims  of  radio  education?  The  word 
"education"  must  be  used  guardedly  on  the  air.  It  is  the 
better  part  of  discretion  to  refer  to  education  as  "popular 
talks,"  as  do  the  British.  Dr.  James  Rowland  Angell,  Presi- 
dent Emeritus  of  Yale  and  educational  adviser  to  the  NBC, 

176  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

advocated  that  air  education  be  labeled  as  ' 'public  service," 
to  avoid  frightening  invisible  listeners  with  some  graybeard 
lecturer.  Sir  John  Reid,  formerly  director  of  the  BBC, 
stated  the  case  of  the  British:  "The  British  have  a  more 
definite  plan  and  policy  in  educational  broadcasting  than 
has  ever  been  set  forth  in  America.  The  British  hold  it 
proper  that  school  pupils  should  receive  training  over  the 
air,  which  will  enable  them  in  later  life  to  listen  critically, 
to  form  judgments  and  build  up  the  habits  of  mind  that 
expect  significant  matter — be  it  music,  news,  drama,  from 

The  announcement  for  school  broadcasts  for  the  year 
1937-38  included  the  following  dictum:  "The  new  medium 
has  proved  a  tremendous  enrichment  in  the  lives  of  many, 
opening  up  new  fields  of  knowledge  and  inquiry,  developing 
new  interests  and  mental  attitudes. 

"The  school  wireless  set  brings  to  the  classroom  the  riches 
of  scientific  and  historical  research,  the  masterpieces  of  lit- 
erature and  music.  Able  commentators  on  economics  and 
current  affairs — a  varied  assortment  of  interests  and  topics, 
which  should  set  the  child's  mind  roaming  along  many  paths 
of  knowledge. 

"It  is  an  axiom  of  educational  practice  that  the  teacher 
should  take  advantage  of  the  inherent  curiosity  of  the  child's 
mind.  Broadcasts  to  schools  using  this  same  curiosity  can  add 
their  peculiar  contribution  to  the  practice  of  the  teacher." 

2.  How  shall  the  teacher  be  trained?  How  shall  the  teacher 
be  trained  to  endow  the  microphone  with  pedagogical  sure- 
ties? Whose  is  the  master  voice  that  can  combine  the  virtues 
of  Will  Rogers,  Socrates,  and  Benjamin  Franklin?  Such  an 
individual,  it  has  been  suggested,  would  make  an  ideal 
director  of  the  University  of  the  Air. 

Many  colleges  today  give  only  theoretical  courses  in 
broadcasting.  The  teacher  is  often  hurried  to  the  micro- 
phone with  scant  understanding  of  what  it  is  all  about. 

CAN    A    MIKE    TEACH?  177 

Provisions  should  be  made  for  experiment;  practice  broad- 
casting should  be  as  common  as  practice  teaching.  In  asso- 
ciation with  professional  broadcasters,  the  teachers  should 
study  the  interrelation  of  writing,  production  and  delivery. 
They  should  combine  writing  with  the  study  of  the  drama. 
Instead  of  a  perfunctory  approach  to  the  subject  the  teacher 
should  give  intensive  study  to  the  art. 

Time  will  come  when  there  will  be  specialized  schools  for 
the  training  of  teachers  for  broadcasting.  It  is  the  problem 
of  the  universities  to  develop  directors  gifted  in  the  origina- 
tion of  program  ideas.  It  is  the  special  province  of  the 
educator  to  breathe  life  into  the  textbooks  and  to  provide 
education  over  the  air  to  many  adults  deprived  of  full  edu- 
cational opportunities  in  their  earlier  years. 

"Broadcasting  is  an  art,"  said  John  Erskine,  "and  the 
broadcaster  is  either  an  artist  or  a  failure.  Radio  demands 
a  special  use  of  the  voice,  and  a  special  conciseness  of  lan- 
guage. But  otherwise,  as  an  art  it  is  governed  by  the  same 
principles  of  aesthetics  as  all  the  other  arts." 

Aldous  Huxley  boldly  answers  the  problem:  "Most  of  the 
professors  broadcasting  are  professors  of  the  old  type.  They 
have  been  educated  in  such  a  way  that  even  when  they 
broadcast  they  think  in  terms  of  the  language  and  the 
methods  accepted  by  the  scholastic  groups  of  which  they  are 
members.  Quis  custodiat  custodes?  Who  will  educate  the 
educators?  The  answer  is  obvious.  Nobody  but  the  educators 
can  educate  themselves,  broadcastingly  speaking.  It  may 
seem  like  going  around  in  a  circle,  but  the  professors  will 
be  obliged  to  look  for  themselves." 

The  noted  educator,  Dr.  Hutchins,  maintains  that  despite 
the  fact  that  the  United  States  has  the  most  extensive  and 
elaborate  system  of  education  in  the  world — its  people,  even 
those  who  take  the  highest  degrees,  are  still  uneducated. 
"They  may  have  acquired  a  good  deal  of  information,  much 
of  which  is  useless  to  them  because  changing  conditions  have 

178  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

rendered  it  archaic,  but  they  have  not  learned  to  think,  as 
their  pitiful  efforts  to  read,  write  and  speak,  make  flagrantly 

Radio  cannot  hope  to  perform  what  the  common  schools 
have  fulfilled.  Acquisition  of  information  by  microphone 
lessons  is  often  confused  with  knowledge.  Massy  information 
has  very  little  to  do  with  education,  except  for  exercising 
the  memory.  Radio  education  at  present  is  designed  to 
present  information.  Its  highest  aim  lies  in  cultivating  the 
listener's  thinking  processes.  Some  say  that  is  impossible  of 
achievement  without  the  presence  of  the  teacher,  the  one 
teaching  and  the  other  learning.  Learning  does  not  occur 
easily  or  casually.  It  requires  careful  direction,  and  hard 
work.  But  when  work  is  related  to  learning,  the  result  is  a 
motion  toward  something  definite  and  of  discipline. 

The  modern  conception  of  education  emphasized  the 
training  of  the  thinking  processes.  Can  it  be  said  that  radio 
will  make  listeners  think?  Can  radio  do  what  the  printing 
press  and  the  classroom  have  failed  to  do? 

3.  Can  Radio  Provide  Education  for  All  Kinds  of  People? 
Real  education,  it  has  been  determined,  can  never  be  a 
mass  product.  The  very  size  and  variety  of  the  radio  audi- 
ence which  includes  all  ages  and  conditions  offers  a  challenge 
to  the  educator.  He  is  compelled  to  invent  a  new  type  of 
adult  education,  that  will  make  scholarship  fascinating  to 
listeners  in  all  sections  of  the  country,  especially  in  areas 
isolated  from  the  big  cities  and  centers  of  learning.  Radio 
can  only  boldly  attempt  to  supply  the  listener's  need  for 
information  in  his  special  field  or  in  related  fields.  If  the 
listener  finds  such  a  service  useful,  he  will  turn  to  successive 
broadcasts  with  delight. 

The  highest  aim  of  the  educator  is  to  stimulate  and  sus- 
tain the  interest  in  the  listener's  love  for  a  subject,  which 
grows  through  the  things  that  he  does  by  himself  under  the 
power  of  suggestion  the  radio  educator  can  wield.  This 

CAN    A    MIKE   TEACH?  179 

power  to  instiil  self-initiative  in  the  listener  is  the  most 
vital  influence  of  the  radio  educator.  The  "radio  professor" 
has  a  bigger  job  at  the  microphone  than  in  his  class  room. 
With  students  directly  under  his  eye  he  can  lecture  for  half 
an  hour  or  so  and,  whereas  they  may  squirm  inwardly,  they 
have  to  sit  and  endure  it.  Not  so  out  yonder  in  the  air!  The 
moment  he  becomes  prosaic  they  say  to  themselves,  "Rats 
to  you,  prexy,"  and  turn  to  a  dance  tune.  If  he  can't  hold 
them  he  has  failed,  and  failure  of  that  sort  is  worse  than  no 
effort  at  all. 

4.  What  sort  of  curriculum  shall  radio  offer?  "Radio 
education  covers  a  multitude  of  broadcasting  activities,  any- 
thing from  a  Metropolitan  Opera  House  broadcast  to  a  class- 
room lecture  by  a  professor  of  geology.  Although  over  forty 
per  cent  of  the  programs  on  the  neftworks  are  labeled 
"education,"  most  school  men  are  dissatisfied  and  frustrated 
by  the  achievements  of  radio  as  an  educational  medium. 
Commercial  broadcasters  and  educators  are  in  complete 
agreement  that  radio  can  provide  a  vast  amount  of  general 
information  for  the  average  citizen.  Radio  education  can 
thus  open  up  the  mental  vision  of  the  world's  activities, 
whet  the  curiosity,  and  stimulate  the  instinct  for  factual 
knowledge.  In  extending  this  realm  of  general  information, 
the  broadcaster  is  warned  not  to  expect  miracles. 

Not  all  subjects  are  adapted  to  radio  teaching.  The  more 
accepted  educational  programs  are  music  appreciation 
courses,  drama,  current  events,  history,  geography,  political 
education,  literature  and  science.  Geography  lessons,  espe- 
cially in  the  form  of  travel  talks,  rank  high  in  satisfaction, 
probably  because  along  with  history  they  can  be  dramatized 
picturesquely;  these  subjects  lend  themselves  to  the  show 
business.  Events  and  places  can  be  re-created  and  visualized 
when  a  traveler  or  explorer  reveals  his  personal  experiences. 
Such  talks  leave  an  imprint  on  the  youthful  mind  far  dif- 
ferent from  a  textbook.  Youth's  sense  of  hearing  is  sharp. 

l8o  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

School  administrators,  in  summarizing,  have  rated  the 
subjects  which  best  lend  themselves  to  broadcast  teaching 
as  follows:  Music  appreciation,  geography  and  travel,  Eng- 
lish and  literature,  health  and  hygiene,  history,  current 
events,  civics,  nature  study  and  science,  foreign  languages. 
This  line-up  seems  to  be  about  the  same  in  all  countries, 
although  each  subject's  place  on  the  list  may  vary  somewhat 
from  country  to  country.  Music  is  universally  at  the  top  of 
the  list. 

The  earliest  form  of  education  by  radio  seems  to  have 
been  through  the  cultural  impact  upon  the  masses  of  truly 
good  music.  Grand  opera,  for  instance,  that  had  never  before 
reached  the  common  people  except  through  phonograph 
records  presently  became  available  to  radio  listeners.  To  be 
sure,  there  was  a  transition  period  in  which  public  reaction 
was  tested.  Among  the  pioneers  in  this  field  who  are  still 
occupying  a  responsible  relation  to  radio  is  Franklin  Dun- 
ham, now  educational  director  of  the  National  Broadcasting 

The  Music  Appreciation  programs  of  Dr.  Walter  Dam- 
rosch  come  in  that  class  of  educational  programs  which  are 
"naturals."  Dr.  Damrosch  estimates  that  his  audience  for 
musical  appreciation  runs  close  to  seven  millions  scattered 
from  coast-to-coast.  He,  as  the  outstanding  teacher  and 
pioneer  in  this  field,  has  received  thousands  and  thousands 
of  letters  from  the  listening  public  and  from  school  teachers 
to  prove  that  radio  carries  education  afar  and  reaches  a 
vast  assembly,  which  displays  "an  amazing  musical  intelli- 
gence, unswervingly  classical."  Many  schools,  especially  in 
the  less  populous  areas  of  the  country,  use  these  courses  as 
a  basis  for  teaching,  and  the  classics  have  been  made  mean- 
ingful to  the  masses  who  have  never  before  enjoyed  the 
glory  of  Bach  or  Beethoven.  Another  earnest  educational 
attempt  is  WABC's  "School  of  the  Air."  History  or  geog- 

CAN    A    MIKE   TEACH?  l8l 

raphy  woven  into  light  variety  entertainment  and  drama, 
painlessly  conveys  fact  and  information. 

Two  important  problems  always  face  the  educator.  First, 
how  can  the  audience  be  persuaded  to  listen?  Second,  how 
can  that  interest  be  retained  so  that  listeners  will  not  tune 

The  school,  rooted  in  tradition,  develops  and  adapts 
teaching  techniques  slowly.  Radio,  if  it  is  to  teach  at  all,  must 
first  master  the  problem  of  attracting  and  holding  an  audi- 
ence. Educational  programs  have  not  had  the  advantage  of 
the  same  experimenting  as  commercial  programs.  When 
educational  programs  are  built  up,  rehearsed,  and  promoted 
for  results,  they  may  begin  to  rise  in  the  popularity  polls 
to  the  same  heights  as  Jack  Benny. 

Educational  broadcasting  therefore  presents  the  lure  of 
entertainment.  The  listener  can  be  beguiled  into  becoming 
educated  willy-nilly.  The  subject  must  in  the  first  place  have 
some  bearing  on  the  listener's  own  problems  and  experi- 
ences. This  awakens  a  primary  interest.  At  this  point,  the 
educator  must  keep  up  with  the  work  and  take  advantage 
of  the  listener's  curiosity  and  natural  interest.  If  these  in- 
terests are  killed,  the  broadcast  has  done  more  harm  than 

The  process  is  a  painless  one.  When  Max  Eastman  initi- 
ated the  "Word  Quiz"  program  for  CBS  he  frankly  told  his 
audience,  "I  must  manage  to  make  your  brain  have  a  good 
time.  If  you  manage  to  learn  something,  please  keep  it  a 
dark  secret,  and  don't  call  me  an  educator." 

Radio  education  however  must  stand  on  tiptoes.  The 
invisible  pedagogue  strives  to  inspire  self-initiative  in  the 
listeners.  And  self-initiative  is  the  basis  of  all  learning.  The 
creation  of  a  National  Education  Radio  Commission,  ap- 
pointed by  the  President  and  supported  by  a  federal  tax 
on  time  devoted  to  advertising,  was  advocated  by  Dr.  Jerome 
Davis  of  the  Yale  Divinity  School.  He  expressed  the  belief 

l82  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

that  the  British  system  is  preferable  to  the  United  States' 
broadcasting  setup. 

The  educator  needs  encouragement,  otherwise  he  stands 
on  the  outside  lines,  inept  and  uninspired.  The  educator 
has  been  accused  of  inefficient  planning,  preparation  and 
•delivery.  But  remember,  he  is  expected  to  work  for  little 
or  nothing  in  the  school  of  the  air.  Hendrik  Willem  van 
Loon,  for  example,  spends  a  day  in  the  preparation  of  what 
he  regards  as  an  educational  talk.  For  this  effort  he  is  paid 
twenty-five  dollars — a  paltry  sum  compared  with  the  stipend 
of  a  low-grade  comedian. 

5.  New  Techniques — The  radio  educator  who  feels  the 
importance  of  his  mission  must  not  scorn  the  methods  of 
the  entertainer,  nor  consider  himself  divorced  from  all  other 
departments  of  radio.  Educators,  ignorant  of  the  techniques 
and  the  approach  to  broadcasting,  fail  dismally.  Dr.  Stude- 
baker,  Commissioner  of  Education,  frankly  admits:  "The 
history  of  educational  broadcasting  is  strewn  with  the  bones 
of  dry  lecturers  because  education  went  on  the  air  without 
mastery  of  the  art  of  teaching  by  radio.  Equally  ineffective 
have  been  the  efforts  of  broadcasters  who  knew  radio  show- 
manship, but  did  not  know  what  or  how  to  teach." 

The  three  types  of  presentation  fall  into  the  dramatic, 
interview,  and  lecture  methods.  Dramatization  is  most  effec- 
tive when  listeners  are  not  acquainted  with  the  subject  sup- 
plemented by  sound  effect  and  varied  voices.  The  interview 
is  most  useful  in  presenting  an  authority  who  is  skilled  in 
radio  speaking.  It  is  taken  for  granted  that  the  interviewer 
is  equally  facile.  "The  straight  talk  is  most  effective  when 
the  listener  has  been  made  interested,"  says  Professor  H. 
E.  Ewbank,  of  the  University  of  Wisconsin. 

Anyone  can  read  off  a  lesson.  But  listeners  are  made  only 
by  enthusiastic  teachers  who  have  something  to  impart 
close  to  their  own  hearts  and  minds.  Let  the  stigma  that 
educators  are  "bum  showmen  be  removed." 

CAN    A    MIKE   TEACH?  183 

When  Hendrik  Willem  van  Loon  quit  the  radio  early 
in  1938  with  a  chip  on  his  shoulder,  he  culminated  against 
following  old  ideas  unadapted  to  such  a  new  medium  that 
calls  for  new  technique  and  modern  methods.  Van  Loon 
protests:  "It  seems  to  me  that  in  applying  radio  to  teaching 
we  have  been  following  school  room  and  university  tactics, 
as  long  as  the  horse  is  pulling  the  buggy  and  not  the  engine. 
The  motor  calls  for  an  entirely  different  style  of  carriage. 
And  so  in  radio  I  think  we  have  reached  the  point  where 
teaching  methods  in  educational  institutions  should  be  re- 
modeled for  an  unseen  audience  instead  of  a  visible.  The 
programs  or  lessons  must  be  designed  first  and  foremost  for 
radio,  and  in  doing  so  they  may  be  quite  contrary  to  school 
room  technique,  where  the  teacher,  the  book  and  the  black- 
board are  all  present." 

The  Future  of  Radio  Education 

What  does  the  future  hold  for  radio  in  education?  Are 
educators  following  the  will  o'  the  wisp?  Frank  E.  Hill,  the 
author  of  ''Listen  and  Learn,"  looks  ahead  to  1947.  In  the 
first  of  a  series  of  studies  on  adult  education,  sponsored  by 
the  Carnegie  Corporation,  Hill  avers  that  most  of  the  good 
educational  broadcasters  in  schools  and  colleges  are  still  in 
hiding.  Education  by  air  is  more  an  art  than  a  profession. 
Those  gifted  in  that  art  should  be  discovered  and  put  to 
work  for  the  benefit  of  a  tremendously  large  classroom. 

Many  of  the  future  radio  educators,  it  is  predicted,  will 
come  from  the  ranks  of  dramatists,  writers  and  actors.  A 
vast  number  of  learners  need  both  sound  as  well  as  sight 
to  comprehend  instruction.  Radio  does  not  offer  a  multiple 
appeal,  which  is  the  peculiar  province  of  the  teacher.  Until 
television  conies,  radio  education  may  be  regarded  as  only 

Up  to  now  radio  broadcasting  has  been  a  novelty.  The 

184  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

novelty  is  beginning  to  wear  off.  The  new  radio  education 
will  include  fundamental  instruction,  as  well  as  supple- 
mentary work,  and  visits  to  the  homes  of  the  listeners.  School 
programs  of  the  future  will  be  broadcast  over  the  short 
wave  frequencies  from  a  central  point  since  commercial 
stations  cannot  surrender  sufficient  time  to  the  schools.  The 
teaching  staff,  instead  of  being  reduced,  will  be  augmented. 
Radio  will  demand  a  specialized  group  with  agreeable  voices. 
Until  students  have  a  way  of  talking  back  to  the  radio, 
no  device  can  take  the  place  of  the  teacher. 

The  late  Glenn  Frank,  former  President  of  the  University 
of  Wisconsin,  regarded  radio  education  as  in  constant  flux. 
"Radio  has  given  education  a  new  medium,"  he  declared. 
"Education  must  invest  radio  with  meaning." 

Success  in  educational  broadcasting  will  depend  upon  the 
finest  in  quality  and  in  content,  presented  by  the  best  minds 
in  such  an  entertaining  manner,  as  will  lead  men  and  women 
to  turn  to  the  radio  for  cultural  guidance  and  information. 
At  the  present  time  educational  broadcasting  in  the 
United  States  is  not  established  on  a  sound  financial  basis. 
In  a  number  of  instances,  the  radio  station  has  furnished 
time,  and  educational  agencies  have  built  programs.  Among 
the  proposals  that  have  come  to  the  attention  of  financing 
educational  broadcasting  are:  (i)  federal  state  aid  for  local 
school  funds;  (2)  listeners'  license  fees;  (3)  sales  tax  on  radio 
sets;  (4)  sales  tax  on  radio  tubes;  (5)  broadcast  license  fees; 
(6)  taxes  on  radio  advertising;  (7)  taxes  on  electrical  tran- 
scriptions and  foundation  grants.  The  public  has  some  re- 
sponsibility also.  Possibly  the  federal  government  should  as- 
sume more  responsibility  than  it  has. 

The  government  is  responsible  for  the  creation  of  every 
station.  That  responsibility  should  include  certain  safe- 
guards for  the  public  interest.  Shall  it  abandon  all  safe- 
guards? Dr.  Studebaker,  Commissioner  of  Education,  is  the 
proponent  of  three  important  responsibilities  which  should 

CAN    A    MIKE    TEACH?  185 

be  exercised  by  the  government.  The  first  of  these  is  the 
responsibility  to  safeguard  the  radio  frequencies  to  insure 
the  maximum  of  public  service.  Nearly  ninety-seven  per  cent 
of  the  frequencies  within  the  regular  broadcast  band  have 
been  handed  over  to  commercial  companies. 

The  second  of  these  responsibilities  of  the  federal  govern- 
ment is  to  acquaint  the  public  with  the  work  of  the  govern- 
ment and  thus  contribute  to  national  well-being.  This  will 
smack  of  propaganda,  but  Dr.  Studebaker  recommends 
forum  discussions  as  a  powerful  force  in  the  diffusion  of  in- 
formation. The  third  responsibility  of  the  government  is  to 
educate  the  public  concerning  the  services  which  should  be 
expected  of  radio  and  to  persuade  and  assist  broadcasters  to 
improve  the  use  of  the  air  in  the  public  interest,  conven- 
ience and  necessity.  This  indeed  is  a  noble  ambition.  If  the 
public  is  made  wise  to  the  limited  fare  they  are  offered,  the 
public  howl  may  have  some  effect. 

Dr.  James  R.  Angell,  former  President  of  Yale,  now  edu- 
cational Counsellor  for  the  National  Broadcasting  Company, 
calls  attention  to  the  diversity  of  interests,  which  character- 
izes this  nation  of  one  hundred  and  thirty  million.  Because 
of  this  diversity  he  would  shift  the  educational  problem  to 
local  stations.  "So  far  as  I  have  been  able  to  determine," 
said  Dr.  Angell,  "a  regular  day  by  day  service  to  the  schools, 
of  matters  directly  related  to  their  normal  curriculum,  can 
be  best  supplied  at  local  stations,  whether  commercially 
owned  or  owned  by  the  State  University." 

In  1937,  Dr.  Studebaker  announced  before  the  first  na- 
tional radio  education  conference  held  in  Washington,  the 
six  goals  which  it  was  hoped  would  be  achieved  within  ten 
years.  It  is  important  to  consider  these  principles  to  deter- 
mine whether  the  goals  are  mere  matters  of  a  ten  year  idea- 
ology  or  whether  progress  can  be  assured. 

i.  Development  of  competent  educational  radio  produc- 

l86  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

ing  groups  in  schools  and  colleges  to  broadcast  on  both  local 
and  educational  stations. 

2.  Further    cooperation    between    educators    and    broad- 
casters through  the  Federal  Educational  Committee. 

3.  Further  experimentation  and  demonstration  in  radio 
in  education  by  the  Office  of  Education  and  expansion  of 
the  service  to  other  agencies  interested  in  the  problem. 

4.  Development  of  practical  training  facilities  for  edu- 
cators charged  with  creating  radio  programs  as  well  as  for 
those  using  them  for  instructional  purposes. 

5.  Establishment  of  short  wave  stations  by  local  school 

6.  More  adequate  support  of  existing  educational  radio 
stations  with  increased  power  and  time  to  enable  them  to 
serve  a  larger  clientele. 

In  1938  WEVD's  University  of  the  Air  assembled  a  group 
of  important  educators  to  discuss  the  problems  of  radio  in 
education.  Among  them  were  the  versatile  Hendrik  Willem 
van  Loon,  Director  of  the  New  School  for  Social  Research; 
Dr.  Alvin  Johnson,  Dean  of  New  York  University;  Dr.  Ned 
H.  Dearborn,  executive  director  of  the  New  York  Adult 
Educational  Council;  Miss  Winifred  Fisher,  and  the  Director 
of  Ethical  Culture  Society,  Dr.  John  Lovejoy  Elliott.  Here 
are  the  highlights  of  their  radio  conversations  which  suc- 
cinctly analyze  the  problem  of  education  over  the  air. 

Hendrik  van  Loon:  NBC  and  Columbia  are  hunting  for 
educational  programs.  Do  they  have  any  ideas?  They  have 
come  down  to  Professor  Quiz.  Anything  more  elevating  they 
won't  listen  to.  WEVD  has  had  all  the  great  scientists  and 
teachers  and  has  pioneered. 

Dr.  Alvin  Johnson:  My  first  notion  is  that  we  don't  have 
enough  respect  for  American  people  to  really  deserve  to  put 
educators  on  the  air.  People  show  a  lot  of  reluctance  in  lis- 
tening to  us.  So  many  educational  programs  are  a  lot  of 

CAN    A    MIKE    TEACH?  187 

patronizing  stuff  that  my  children  would  turn  off  the  radio 
the  moment  they  heard  it. 

Mr.  van  Loon:  We  give  it  away  for  nothing.  That's  the 
trouble.  They  don't  care  a  damn.  That's  been  true  from  the 
time  of  Jesus  to  Hitler. 

Dr.  Johnson:  We  look  around  for  some  one  who  will  pro- 
duce the  stuff  for  nothing,  make  him  feel  that  he  has  a 
wonderful  privilege  in  talking  to  eighty  million  people  over 
a  hookup  when  the  fact  is,  they  haven't  given  him  the  condi- 
tions to  do  a  thing  worth  the  time  of  eight  people,  let  alone 
eighty  million. 

Dr.  Ned  H.  Dearborn:  We  have  not  been  able  to  get 
together  on  anything  that  is  good  for  education  in  radio. 
Committees  have  been  scrapping  for  a  place  in  the  sun.  The 
industry  has  been  arrogant.  A  leading  executive  in  a  recent 
speech  said:  "Any  attack  on  the  American  system  of  broad- 
casting is  a  fundamental  attack  on  democracy  itself." 

Dr.  Johnson:  There  is  no  objection  to  the  system.  I  am  a 
member  of  Columbia's  committee  on  education,  a  fairly 
representative  organization.  We  are  given  one  half-hour  and 
two  fifteen-minute  periods  of  evening  time  worth  a  million 
dollars.  But  what  does  anybody  give  for  producing  material 
for  an  educational  program?  Our  education  programs  should 
be  worked  over  to  the  same  extent  that  a  Fred  Allen  show  is. 
Then  we  would  have  good  educational  programs. 

Miss  Winifred  Fisher:  I  don't  listen  to  radio.  I  have  been 
disappointed  because  of  their  assumption  that  you  are  so 
stupid  and  that  education  must  be  sugar-coated  and  diluted 
over  the  air.  I  would  listen  to  radio  if  more  substance  and 
less  pap  were  put  into  educational  talks. 

Mr.  van  Loon:  You  can't  tell  that  to  radio  stations  who 
are  afraid  of  advertisers. 

Miss  Fisher:  It's  the  fault  of  the  people  who  don't  write 
and  complain  to  the  stations. 

Dr.  Dearborn:  You  can't  expect  men  with  lots  of  money 
to  have  a  social-minded  approach. 

Dr.  John  L.  Elliott:  We  have  a  way  of  passing  our  interest 
to  another  country.  There  isn't  anything  our  people  can  do 
for  the  people  in  Vienna.  Why  not  begin  with  the  problems 

l88  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

at  our  door?  Unemployment  is  the  problem  in  this  country. 
There  are  people  who  can  discuss  the  question  without 
propaganda.  Get  people  who  are  working  on  the  job  of 
democracy  in  this  country  and  in  our  city. 

Mr.  van  Loon:  In  other  words,  discuss  economic  prob- 
lems, social  problems. 

Visitor:  When  you  discuss  relief  you  cannot  do  it  from 
a  non-partisan  point  of  view.  Discussions  should  take  the 
form  of  debates.  They  are  listened  to. 

Dr.  Johnson:  More  time  must  be  spent  on  a  fifteen-minute 
program  than  on  an  article  in  a  magazine.  You  must  make 
a  living  from  it  to  do  as  good  a  job  as  Vallee  does  with  his 
program.  When  radio  takes  education  seriously  it  will  give 
not  only  one  million  dollars  of  its  time,  but  it  will  give 
enough  money  to  people  who  will  really  work  their  heads 
off  to  get  something  done.  Then  what  is  put  on  the  air  can 
be  a  priceless  piece  of  art.  Something  on  which  no  amount 
of  patience  should  be  spared. 

The  Correspondence  School  of  the  Air 

The  Board  of  Education  of  New  York  City  conducted 
courses  on  the  air  which  were  a  distinct  advance  in  method. 
The  project  was  the  teaching  of  English  by  remote  control 
to  Italian,  Jewish  and  German  residents,  the  city's  dominant 
racial  groups.  The  schedule  calls  for  radio  programs  of  fif- 
teen minutes  each  in  which  the  teacher  translates  back  and 
forth  in  English  to  the  native  language  of  the  listener.  The 
course  is  conducted  along  classroom  lines  with  the  students 
doing  homework  and  sending  it  in  for  correction.  Advice 
and  criticism  are  given  by  six  traveling  tutors,  who  visit 
them  in  their  own  homes. 

Honors  are  even  awarded  to  those  pupils  who  regularly 
mail  in  their  homework  and  show  the  best  progress.  There 
is  even  a  summa  cum  laude  for  those  showing  outstanding 
improvement,  which  takes  the  form  of  an  invitation  to  visit  a 
radio  station  and  participate  in  a  broadcast. 

CAN    A    MIKE    TEACH?  l8q 


Women  predominate  among  the  registrants.  A  housewife, 
who  must  send  her  children  to  school,  prepare  dinner,  mar- 
ket, and  mend,  has  little  time  to  attend  the  neighboring 
WPA  schools  for  adults.  As  she  stands  in  the  kitchen,  she 
may  turn  on  the  radio  and  listen  to  an  instructor,  who  speaks 
her  own  tongue.  She  is  thus  taught  the  elements  of  a  lan- 
guage she  has  really  never  had  time  to  learn.  The  instruc- 
tion is  based  upon  a  textbook  which,  though  based  upon 
the  fundamental  principles  for  children,  has  been  brought 
up  to  adult  level. 

Education  on  the  Air 

The  ideal  to  be  aimed  at  in  propagandist  efforts  would 
seem  to  require  a  frank  avowal  of  the  purposes  and  interests 
represented  when  a  broadcaster  seeks  to  win  support  for  his 
position;  also  an  honest  presentation  of  all  the  facts  which 
the  reader  or  listener  has  a  right  to  know  in  order  to  form 
an  intelligent  judgment.  So  safeguarded,  propaganda  over 
the  radio,  as  elsewhere,  is  a  form  of  the  normal  effort  of 
human  beings  to  influence  one  another's  attitudes. 

Many  persons  insist  that  no  commercial  program  can  pos- 
sibly be  educational.  Yet  some  commercial  programs  may 
be  more  truly  educational  in  the  sense  of  developing  new 
interest  and  providing  cultural  enrichment  than  some  of 
those  provided  by  educational  institutions.  Advertising,  in 
connection  writh  the  broadcasting  of  a  symphony  concert  or 
the  Metropolitan  Opera,  is  highly  displeasing  to  many  listen- 
ers, yet  very  few  would  deny  that  to  make  grand  opera  or 
symphony  music  available  to  listeners  all  over  the  country 
is  to  provide  a  genuine  education  in  musical  appreciation 
to  many  who  otherwise  could  never  hope  to  hear  more  than 
short  excerpts  from  such  works  on  phonograph  records. 

Educational  broadcasting,  in  the  narrower  sense  of  the 
term,  includes  stimulating  interest,  providing  specific  in- 


formation,  and  teaching  new  skills.  Many  educators  feel  that 
the  first  is  the  task  for  which  radio  is  best  adapted  and  that 
the  emphasis  should  be  placed  there.  Others  point  to  the 
success  of  the  land-grant  colleges  in  broadcasting  informa- 
tion to  farmers  about  improved  methods  and  to  the  popu- 
larity among  housewives  of  home  economics  talks.  Still 
others  point  to  the  teaching  of  arithmetic  by  radio  in  the 
Cleveland  schools  to  the  lessons  in  the  playing  of  band  and 
orchestral  instruments  broadcast  for  more  than  five  years  by 
Dr.  Joseph  E.  Maddy,  of  the  University  of  Michigan. 

Some  educators  believe  that  the  lecturer  who  is  popular  in 
the  classroom  is  equally  interesting  to  the  radio  audience, 
and  that  the  hour  or  two-hour  lecture  is  not  too  long  for  the 
listener  who  "really  wants  education."  Early  in  1937  Har- 
vard University  began  to  broadcast  certain  classroom  lectures 
and  other  programs  over  WIXAL,  a  short-wave,  noncom- 
mercial station.  The  experiment,  the  first  attempt  to  broad- 
cast classroom  lectures  internationally,  was  so  successful  that 
it  has  been  continued. 

The  difficulty  is  not  only  the  fact  that  a  large  proportion 
of  listeners  will  tune  out  "heavy"  lectures,  but  that  they 
will  fail  to  tune  in  again  for  later  programs  in  which  they 
would  be  interested.  Thus,  the  station  fears,  it  will  lose  its 
audience  for  commercial  programs — and  on  that  its  income 
depends.  Yet  this  problem  is  not  one  for  commercial  broad- 
casters alone,  for  an  audience  is  essential  in  any  case. 

School  Broadcasts 

In  1937-38  the  American  School  of  the  Air  was  broadcast 
for  thirty  minutes  every  school  day  by  ninety  stations  affili- 
ated with  the  Columbia  System.  During  the  same  year  the 
National  Education  Association,  the  Progressive  Education 
Association,  the  National  Council  of  Teachers  of  English, 
the  National  Council  of  Teachers  of  Geography,  the  Na~ 

CAN    A    MIKE    TEACH?  1Q1 

tional  Vocational  Guidance  Association,  and  Junior  Pro- 
grams cooperated  in  the  programs.  Professor  William  C. 
Bagley,  of  Teachers  College,  Columbia  University,  is  chair- 
man of  the  Board  of  Consultants. 

The  Communications  Commission  has  formulated  engi- 
neering requirements  which  school  systems  preparing  to  in- 
stall stations  must  meet.  A  maximum  of  one  thousand-watts 
power  and  a  minimum  of  one  hundred  watts  are  required, 
although  the  latter  may  be  modified  for  schools  which  can 
show  that  lower  power  is  better  adapted  to  their  needs. 

Educational  Stations 

From  1921  through  1936,  two  hundred  and  two  broad- 
cast licenses  were  issued  to  one  hundred  and  sixty-eight  edu- 
cational institutions.  In  January,  1937,  there  were  thirty- 
eight  stations  owned  by  educational  institutions,  and  one 
short-wave  educational  station  which  is  not  owned  by  an  in- 

More  controversy  has  centered  in  the  question  of  educa- 
tional stations  than  in  almost  any  other  aspect  of  broadcast- 
ing. When  licenses  were  given  to  all  applicants,  many  insti- 
tutions secured  licenses.  But  many  made  little  or  no  use  of 
their  stations.  Gradually,  many  of  these  institutions  either 
gave  up  their  licenses  or  leased  the  stations  to  commercial 

In  the  fall  of  1934  the  Federal  Communications  Commis- 
sion held  a  series  of  hearings  on  the  question  of  allocating 
definite  frequencies  to  educational  stations,  in  accordance 
with  a  provision  of  the  Federal  Communications  Act.  The 
commercial  broadcasters  brought  forward  an  impressive 
amount  of  testimony  to  show  that  educators  were  not  making 
use  of  the  opportunities  offered,  while  the  National  Com- 
mittee could  not  prove  any  great  public  interest  in  its 

ig2  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

All  the  educational  stations  which  are  operated  on  a  non- 
commercial basis  have  very  limited  budgets.  WHA  in  Wis- 
consin, which  is  described  as  "the  largest  of  the  educational 
stations  in  physical  plant,  one  of  the  largest  in  transmission 
power,  the  richest  in  financial  resources,  and  probably  the 
most  outstanding  in  the  quality  of  its  programs,"  had  a 
budget  of  twenty-five  thousand  dollars  for  1937-38. 


Co-operation  Between  Educators  and  Broadcasters 

After  the  Federal  Communications  Commission  decided 
not  to  recommend  the  allocation  of  specific  frequencies  for 
educational  stations,  the  Federal  Radio  Education  Commit- 
tee was  set  up  in  1935  by  the  Commission  to  "eliminate  con- 
troversy and  misunderstanding"  and  to  "promote  cooperative 
arrangements  between  educators  and  broadcasters  on  na- 
tional, regional,  and  local  bases."  John  W.  Studebaker, 
Commissioner  of  Education,  is  chairman.  The  committee 
includes  prominent  educators,  religious  and  labor  leaders, 
representatives  of  educational  stations,  and  commercial 
broadcasters.  With  the  appointment  of  this  committee  the 
importance  of  the  problem  was  definitely  recognized  by  the 
government.  A  series  of  studies  which,  it  is  estimated,  will 
require  two  years  for  its  completion  at  a  total  cost  of  two 
hundred  and  fifty  thousand  dollars  has  been  approved.  Edu- 
cational foundations  have  promised  two-thirds  of  the  neces- 
sary funds,  and,  it  is  expected,  the  remainder  will  be  con- 
tributed by  the  broadcasters.  Among  the  projects  for  study 
are  "a  survey  of  successful  efforts  by  local  stations  to  secure 
cooperation  with  civic  and  other  nonprofit  groups  in  their 
respective  communities,"  a  study  of  teacher-training  courses 
in  the  use  of  school  radio  programs,  the  creation  of  a  clear- 
ing house  of  information  on  educational  broadcasting,  a 
study  of  methods  of  publicizing  radio  programs,  a  survey  of 
"organized  listening  groups  here  and  abroad,"  the  develop- 

CAN    A    MIKE    TEACH?  193 

ment  of  techniques  for  evaluating  radio  programs  (this  is  be- 
ing carried  on  by  Ohio  State  University  on  a  grant  from  the 
General  Education  Board),  a  study  of  cooperation  between 
local  stations  and  local  educational  institutions,  a  survey  of 
experience  in  network  educational  broadcasting,  an  analysis 
of  public  opinion  in  regard  to  educational  broadcasting,  and 
a  study  of  radio  listeners  (this  is  being  carried  on  by  Prince- 
ton University  on  a  grant  from  the  Rockefeller  Foundation). 

One  of  the  most  interesting  developments  in  the  local  field 
is  that  of  the  University  Broadcasting  Council  in  Chicago, 
a  nonprofit  corporation  under  the  laws  of  Illinois.  Three 
universities — Chicago,  DePaul,  and  Northwestern — each  ap- 
point two  of  its  six  trustees.  Thus  it  functions  essentially  as 
the  radio  departments  of  the  universities.  It  cooperates  with 
five  stations  in  the  Chicago  area,  including  the  key  stations 
of  BBC,  Columbia  and  Mutual.  Nearly  half  its  budget  of 
fifty-six  thousand  five  hundred  dollars  for  the  year  1938  was 
met  by  contributions  from  the  universities  and  the  stations 
and  the  remainder  is  furnished  by  the  Rockefeller  Fund. 

Perhaps  the  most  impressive  statement  of  the  charges  of 
the  educators  is  made  in  Four  Years  of  Network  Broadcast- 
ing, issued  by  the  Committee  on  Civic  Education  of  the 
National  Advisory  Council  on  Radio  in  Education.  As  a  re- 
sult of  numerous  changes  in  hours,  the  shift  from  one  net- 
work to  the  other,  cutting  the  time  of  the  programs  in  half, 
failing  to  provide  lists  of  the  stations  carrying  the  programs 
in  time  to  send  out  publicity,  and  failure  to  keep  the  stations 
in  line  for  the  whole  series  of  programs,  the  committee  con- 
cluded by  1937  that  "it  is  useless  at  this  time  to  attempt  sys- 
tematic education  by  national  network  broadcasting  at  hours 
when  it  will  be  available  to  large  adult  audiences."  "Educa- 
tional broadcasting,"  the  committee  complains,  "has  become 
the  poor  relation  of  commercial  broadcasting,  and  the  pau- 
perization" of  the  former  has  "increased  in  direct  proportion 
to  the  growing  affluence"  of  the  latter. 

194  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

It  seems  that  both  networks  and  stations  may  be  becoming 
aware  of  the  seriousness  of  the  problem.  In  1937  the  NBC 
appointed  Dr.  James  W.  Angell,  president-emeritus  of  Yale 
University,  as  its  educational  counsellor.  In  the  same  year 
WBEN  of  Buffalo  appointed  B.  H.  Darrow,  well-known  for 
his  work  in  the  Ohio  School  of  the  Air,  as  educational  direc- 
tor. It  may  be  noted  that  since  1933  the  position  of  educa- 
tional director  of  the  NBC  has  been  a  subordinate  one. 
For  the  first  time  a  network  has  a  really  prominent  educator 
formally  appointed  as  counsellor.  Mr.  Darrow  is  the  first  pne 
appointed  by  an  independently  owned  commercial  station 
"exclusively  for  educating."  On  January  10,  1939,  the  Co- 
lumbia System  announced  the  appointment  of  an  Adult 
Education  Board  of  educators  and  publicists  with  Professor 
Lyman  Bryson,  of  Teachers  College,  Columbia  University, 
as  chairman.  The  board  is  studying  the  scope  and  purpose 
of  adult  education  over  the  air  to  meet  the  needs  of  a 
democracy,  seeking  to  perfect  techniques  for  this  type  of 
broadcasting.  All  educational  series  presented  by  the  Sys- 
tem's department  of  education  are  arranged  with  the  counsel 
of  the  board.  Late  in  July,  1938,  the  NBC  announced  that 
an  educational  division  would  be  established  in  the  program 
department,  in  accordance  with  suggestions  made  by  Doctor 

It  is  assumed  that  such  local  control  enables  the  fullest 
adjustment  to  the  peculiarities  of  a  particular  school  system. 
The  school  officials  and  teachers  are  enabled  to  work  out 
the  programs  most  appropriate  to  the  local  needs.  The  plan 
allows  for  greater  flexibility  and  freedom  to  adjust  pro- 
grams to  changes  suddenly  precipitated  by  any  one  of  the 
unforeseen  accidents  which  afflict  a  school  system. 

This  sounds  as  if  the  great  change  could  do  nothing  di- 
rectly for  the  schools.  Dr.  Angell  disavows  this  belief.  "It 
does  mean,"  he  says,  "that  with  forty-eight  states  and  four 
district  time  zones  to  be  served,  each  State  having  its  own  pe- 

CAN    A    MIKE   TEACH?  1Q5 

culiar  problems  and  prejudices,  it  is  humanly  all  but  im- 
possible for  the  great  change  to  furnish  a  regular  day  by 
day  routine  service  to  meet  the  needs  and  the  complete 
school  curriculum. 

"They  can  from  time  to  time  offer  brilliant  supplements 
of  the  school  program  which  a  local  station  could  almost 
never  demand.  And  in  certain  fields,  such  as  music,  litera- 
ture, social  science  and  health,  they  will  probably  for  a  long 
time  to  come  be  the  only  source  to  which  the  schools  can 
look  for  the  best." 

The  networks  loftily  and  frequently  exploit  the  "great" 
educational  "value"  of  radio  as  a  new  and  far-reaching 
medium.  An  analysis  of  radio  programs  leads  one  to  sus- 
picion that  the  overlords  of  radio  do  not  mean  what  they 
say.  There  is  precious  little  of  what  may  be  termed  "educa- 
tion" in  radio,  but  with  tongue-in-cheek  the  networks  have 
from  time  to  time  really  been  moved  to  do  something 
about  it. 

Visionaries  see  in  radio  the  end  of  all  blackboards,  text 
books  and  even  the  teacher.  Other  observers  know  that  radio 
can  never  supplant  the  discipline  of  the  classroom  and  the 
guidance  and  inspiration  of  the  teacher.  The  teacher  was 
at  first  inclined  to  believe  that  radio  was  a  labor-saving  de- 
vice that  would  pre-empt  her  place  in  the  classroom.  All 
this  is  a  fallacy.  Eighteen  years  of  educational  broadcasting 
have  proven  that  radio  is  merely  a  supplementary  branch  of 
the  classroom,  and  not  a  revolutionary  method  in  instruction. 

Only  a  few  educational  programs  are  outstanding.  Educa- 
tional theory  has  been  tested  by  listener  demand,  and  the 
dry-as-dust  formula  has  proved  a  flop. 

Sustained  Programs 

Back  in  1930,  when  the  CBS  American  School  of  the  Air 
started,  juvenile  education  by  radio  was  a  novelty.  Adult 

10  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

education  by  the  same  medium  was  virtually  nonexistent. 
But  the  educational  possibilities  of  the  microphone  were 
plain,  and  leading  radio  interests  began  experimenting  with 
the  idea  until  the  tide  started  flowing.  It  has  been  brought 
to  a  crest  in  the  CBS's  Adult  Education  Series. 

This  CBS  series  is  noteworthy  because:  (i)  It  engages  top- 
flight authorities  in  their  fields;  (2)  it  is  divided  into  three 
departments  of  instruction,  with  weekly  programs  in  each; 
(3)  it  is  not  a  trial  balloon  but  a  permanent  schedule. 

The  first  department,  "Americans  at  Work,"  went  on  the 
air  April  28;  the  second,  "Living  History,"  May  4;  the  third, 
"Adventures  in  Science,"  May  6.  Other  departments  have 

"Americans  at  Work,"  is  a  close-up  picture  of  industry; 
it  catches  workmen  of  all  kinds — sandhogs,  steelworkers,  lo- 
comotive engineers — right  at  their  jobs  in  their  overalls. 
"Living  History"  dramatizes  famous  movements  of  the  past 
and,  where  possible,  draws  an  illuminating  parallel  with 
the  present.  "Adventures  in  Science"  presents  scientific  views 
of  important  discoveries  and  theories  in  modern  medicine, 
endocrinology,  atomic  research,  and  so  on. 


By   Prof.   Henry   Pratt  Fairchild,   Chairman,   Sociology   Department,   New 
York  University  Graduate  School,  over  Station  WEVD,  Tuesday,  June   14, 
1938.  The  first  in  a  series  by  members  of  the  Advisory  Board  of  the  WEVD 
University  of  the  Air. 

There  is  no  doubt  that  the  American  people  is  pro- 
foundly education-minded.  Our  whole  tradition,  our  whole 
national  philosophy,  induce  us  to  lean  heavily  on  education 
as  a  solution  of  all  problems,  an  avenue  to  all  happiness. 
Whenever  any  new  invention  or  discovery  is  made  available 
almost  immediately  some  one  begins  to  ask  how  it  can  be 
made  useful  in  the  field  of  education. 

CAN    A    MIKE    TEACH? 

It  was  to  be  expected,  therefore,  that  as  soon  as  the 
marvellous  instrument  of  radio  broadcasting  had  demon- 
strated its  practicability  the  eyes  of  educators,  publicists, 
moral  leaders,  and  perhaps  some  less  objective  representa- 
tives of  special  interests  should  focus  themselves  upon  it  in 
the  effort  to  discover  its  latent  possibilities.  It  was  natural, 
also,  that  the  first  line  of  thought  should  link  it  up  with 
existing  educational  agencies.  It  was  considered  as  a  new 
implement  to  be  added  to  the  equipment  of  the  public 
schools,  colleges,  and  universities.  The  question  was  how 
the  existing  teaching  staffs  of  these  institutions  could  be 
mobilized  effectively  for  this  new  attack  on  ignorance,  and 
how  the  conventional  techniques  and  processes  of  instruc- 
tion could  be  adapted  to  reach  a  new  type  of  pupils. 

One  of  the  early  ideas  was  to  achieve  the  maximum  of 
economy  by  simply  broadcasting  regular  courses  from  the 
class-room.  I  believe  I  was  the  first,  at  least  one  of  the  two 
first,  teachers  to  be  invited  to  participate  in  such  an  experi- 
ment. The  administration  of  New  York  University  was 
much  interested,  and  facilitated  the  experiment  in  every 
way.  I  shall  never  forget  the  thrill  of  the  first  occasion,  or 
the  sinking  feeling  in  the  pit  of  my  stomach  when  I  saw, 
in  addition  to  the  familiar  group  of  student  faces  in  front 
of  me,  that  strange-looking  little  instrument  set  up  on  my 
desk,  and  realized  that  the  responsibility  was  on  me  to  de- 
liver a  coherent  and  intelligible  presentation  of  the  subject 
to  an  unknown  number  of  unseen  auditors.  Of  course  the 
students  loved  it — the  students  there  in  the  class-room,  I 
mean.  This  was  many  years  ago,  and  radio  was  very  new. 
To  see  a  little  group  of  important  looking  men  come  into 
the  room  and  set  up  an  elaborate  and  impressive  lot  of 
equipment,  and  then  to  listen  breathlessly  for  the  first  words 
of  wisdom  to  go  floating  off  into  the  ether  gave  them  a 
tremendous  kick. 

There  were  obviously  technical   difficulties  on   the  me- 

198  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

chanical  side.  I  could  see  that  things  were  not  always  going 
smoothly.  One  night  the  transmission  wire  broke  down  and 
I  don't  know  how  many  hundreds  of  thousands  of  eager 
learners  were  deprived  of  their  evening  dose  of  priceless 

There  were  also  technical  difficulties  from  the  pedagogical 
side.  The  regular  class  period  was  an  hour  and  three  quar- 
ters, while  the  radio  spot  in  those  days  was  twenty  minutes. 
The  class  met  once  a  week.  I  was  therefore  under  the  obli- 
gation of  keeping  two  independent  but  connected  lecture 
series  going.  The  first  twenty  minutes  of  each  session  had 
to  be  continuous  and  consistent  for  the  sake  of  the  radio 
audience,  while  the  remaining  hour  and  twenty-five  minutes 
had  also  to  be  a  consistent  unit  in  itself  without  so  much 
padding  as  to  strain  the  conscience  of  a  fairly  seasoned 
instructor.  It  wasn't  too  easy.  More  than  this,  the  subjection 
to  the  microphone  seriously  cramps  the  style  of  a  teacher 
who  is  at  the  same  time  trying  to  deal  fairly  with  a  corporeal 
group  of  students.  He  wants  to  be  free  to  move  about,  to 
sit  down  or  stand  up,  to  turn  his  back  and  put  something 
on  the  blackboard.  I  very  soon  became  convinced  that  the 
two  types  of  instruction  required  quite  different  techniques, 
which  would  not  be  well  mixed.  Apparently  the  superior 
powers  came  to  a  similar  conclusion,  for  the  experiment  was 
discontinued  after  a  run  of  six  or  eight  weeks.  I  never  took 
the  pains  to  inquire  into  the  reasons,  nor  did  I  give  much 
weight  to  the  suggestion  offered  by  one  of  my  fan  mail 
correspondents  that  my  lectures  contained  a  little  too  much 
sound  radicalism  to  be  acceptable  in  all  quarters. 

But  at  any  rate,  this  venture  demonstrated  that  whatever 
the  possibilities  of  radio  education  may  be,  it  is  hampered 
by  certain  limitations  that  do  not  affect  ordinary  class-room 
teaching.  Radio  instruction  is,  by  its  very  nature,  a  one-way 
process,  and  it  is  an  open  question  how  much  real  education 
can  be  achieved  when  the  flow  of  human  relationships  is  all 

CAN    A    MIKE    TEACH?  1QQ 

in  one  direction.  Heaven  knows  that  there  is  all  too  much 
of  the  one-way  business  in  a  great  deal  of  our  current 
college  and  university  teaching.  The  size  of  classes,  and  other 
pedagogical  considerations,  compel  the  use  of  the  so-called 
"lecture  system"  in  a  large  proportion  of  the  courses  in  many 
of  our  institutions.  Many  of  my  present  listeners  have  un- 
doubtedly been  subjected  to  this  alleged  educational  pro- 
cedure, and  I  am  sure  that  most  of  them  will  agree  with 
me  as  to  the  validity  of  a  definition  offered  by  a  certain 
undergraduate  student.  This  young  man  said  that  "The 
lecture  system,  as  developed  in  our  American  colleges  and 
universities  is  a  system  whereby  ideas  pass  from  the  lips 
of  the  instructors  to  the  note-books  of  pupils  without  passing 
through  the  minds  of  either."  Now  you  see,  just  to  illustrate 
my  point,  I  have  no  way  of  knowing  whether  that  got  a 
laugh  or  not.  I  have  always  thought  that  the  reference  to 
ideas  in  that  definition  was  a  trifle  optimistic,  but  aside  from 
that  I  think  it  comes  very  close  to  the  truth. 

But  even  at  its  worst,  the  system  of  class-room  lectures 
has  many  advantages  over  talking  to  an  unseen  audience. 
The  teacher  who  has  his  class  actually  before  him  can  tell 
to  some  extent,  by  the  looks  of  his  auditors,  whether  he  is 
putting  his  points  across  or  not.  At  least  he  can  tell  whether 
he  is  keeping  his  class  awake.  If  he  finds  that  he  is  not  to 
a  full  hundred  per  cent  he  may  be  rather  pointedly  reminded 
that  it  is  his  own  fault.  I  heard  of  one  college  professor  who 
noticed  that  one  of  the  men  in  the  front  row  was  slumbering 
soundly,  and  he  called  to  the  man  in  the  adjacent  seat  and 
said,  "Brown,  wake  up  that  man  next  to  you."  "Wake  him  up 
yourself,"  said  Brown,  "you  put  him  to  sleep."  Of  course 
there  are  some  teachers  whose  soporific  talents  are  so  great 
is  to  affect  even  themselves.  I  was  told  the  other  day  of  a 
certain  professor  who  dreamed  that  he  was  teaching  a  class 
and  woke  up  and  found  he  was. 

But  if   the   teacher  is  really  worth   the  name   there   is 


unquestionably  an  influence  exerted  by  him  upon  his  pupils, 
an  intangible  something  that  emanates  from  him  and  pro- 
duces an  effect  upon  them  that  can  not  possibly  be  achieved 
by  the  heard  voice  alone,  even  though  the  speaker  may  be 
peculiarly  gifted  with  that  indefinable  ability  to  put  his 
personality  across  over  the  air.  And  even  in  courses  that 
follow  the  lecture  method,  there  is  usually  an  opportunity 
for  individual  students  to  raise  questions  or  interpose  objec- 
tions in  special  cases. 

But  I  believe  I  am  expressing  the  convictions  of  almost 
all  true  teachers  when  I  say  that  the  soundest  education 
must  always  be  a  two-way  process.  This  does  not  merely 
mean  that  the  teacher  must  have  a  chance  of  testing  the 
student's  preparation,  or  finding  out  directly  how  much  he 
has  learned  from  his  studies  up  to  date.  In  many  subjects,  at 
least,  it  is  much  more  than  that.  Genuine  education  is  much 
more  than  the  simple  presentation  and  apprehension  of 
facts,  or  even  of  truth.  There  is  always  a  question  of  inter- 
pretation, of  analysis,  of  emphasis,  and  these  matters  vary 
greatly  according  to  the  character  of  the  personalities  in- 
volved. One  of  the  most  scholarly  men  I  ever  knew,  a 
person  of  true  eminence,  told  me  that  in  his  teaching  at 
one  of  our  old  New  England  universities,  when  dealing  with 
controversial  political  and  economic  subjects  he  felt  com- 
pelled to  express  views  and  opinions  much  more  radical 
than  he  really  held,  because  he  knew  that  his  students  would 
discount  whatever  he  said  so  heavily  that  in  order  to  produce 
the  correct  impression  on  their  minds  the  actual  statement 
had  to  be  exaggerated.  It  is  a  truism  to  say  that  real  educa- 
tion is  a  growth  process,  and  growth  is  always  affected  by 
the  environmental  conditions.  In  the  class-room  the  intel- 
lectual environment  is  provided  not  only  by  the  teacher, 
but  the  students  themselves.  Frequently  more  is  learned  by 
a  given  student  from  listening  to  the  questions  and  com- 
ments of  other  students,  and  the  interchange  between  them 

CAN    A    MIKE   TEACH?  2O1 

and  the  teacher,  than  from  his  own  direct  relations  with 
the  teacher.  It  is  doubtful  whether  any  satisfactory  educa- 
tional substitute  can  ever  be  found  for  the  small,  face-to-face 
group  of  learners,  including  the  nominal  instructor,  who 
participate  jointly  in  the  pursuit  of  that  development  ol 
personality  which  is  the  great  aim  of  all  education,  and 
which  can  be  no  more  standardized  and  depersonalized  than 
can  human  beings  themselves. 

All  of  the  foregoing  is  true  of  education  in  general,  re- 
gardless of  the  specific  subject.  Obviously  difficulties  increase 
in  the  case  of  these  subjects,  particularly  various  sciences, 
where  laboratory  experience  and  practice  is  virtually 
necessary.  Clearly,  ordinary  laboratory  instruction  and  ex- 
perimentation can  not  be  conducted  over  the  air.  There  is, 
indeed,  a  very  interesting  and  important  point  as  to  how 
far  conventional  laboratory  experience  is  really  essential 
to  the  mastery  of  such  subjects  as  chemistry,  physics,  and 
biology.  A  very  significant  series  of  educational  researches 
could  well  be  undertaken  in  this  field.  It  would  be  an 
exciting  task  to  discover  to  what  extent  a  radio  audience 
could  be  instructed  and  assisted  to  perform  for  themselves, 
with  such  equipment  as  the  ordinary  household  could  sup- 
ply, such  experiments  as  are  absolutely  essential  for  the 
grasp  of  the  elements  of  the  physical  sciences. 

For  the  present,  however,  almost  by  tacit  assumption  the 
field  of  radio  education  has  been  limited  to  subjects  requir- 
ing no  special  laboratory  experience.  This  tends  to  narrow 
it  down  to  the  humanities  and  the  social  sciences.  Here  is 
a  broad  enough  field,  to  be  sure,  to  occupy  the  attention 
of  existing  educational  radio  facilities  for  some  time  to 
come.  And  perhaps  it  is  the  field  where  radio  education  is 
most  vitally  important.  For  it  is  particularly  in  the  field  of 
the  social  sciences  that  the  linkage  of  behavior  to  sound 
intellectual  competence  is  most  vital  to  the  individual  and 
society.  Very  few  persons  have  to  practice  chemistry,  or 

202  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

physics,  or  biology  to  more  than  a  very  limited  extent,  unless 
they  choose  them  as  a  career.  But  everybody,  particularly  in 
a  democracy,  has  to  practice  social  relationships,  and  if  he 
does  not  practice  them  intelligently  and  wisely  he  must 
perforce  practice  them  stupidly  and  blindly. 

In  my  talk  thus  far  I  have  laid  particular  stress  on  the 
difficulties  and  limitations  of  radio  education.  These  can 
never  be  ignored.  But  it  is  equally  important  to  recognize 
that  radio  instruction  has  many  distinct  and  peculiar  ad- 
vantages. These  are  so  numerous  that  they  can  be  hardly 
more  than  mentioned  in  the  remaining  minute  or  two.  First 
of  all,  and  most  obvious,  is  the  vast  multiplication  of  the 
number  of  students  made  possible  by  the  broadcast  method. 
In  a  single  evening  a  given  teacher  can  reach  many  times 
more  pupils  than  he  could  hope  to  influence  in  a  lifetime 
of  ordinary  teaching.  And  if  he  has  a  significant  message  to 
deliver  this  is  of  vital  importance.  In  the  second  place,  radio 
education  is  far  less  responsive  than  study  in  any  of  the 
conventional  institutions.  It  can  be  done  in  the  pupil's 
home,  no  extra  expenses  for  travel,  residence,  food,  etc.  It 
is  a  temptation  to  point  out  in  addition  that  the  expenses 
of  instruction  are  further  cut  down  by  the  fact  that  in  many 
cases  the  teacher  gets  no  pay  for  the  instruction  he  does 
over  the  air — but  I  won't  go  into  that.  In  the  third  place, 
as  radio  education  is  developed,  it  will  become  more  and 
more  possible  for  the  student  to  adjust  his  learning  activities 
to  the  requirements  of  his  regular  job  or  occupation.  There 
is  already  an  effort  to  schedule  educational  programs  at 
hours  when  workers  of  all  types  are  most  likely  to  be  at 
leisure.  Again,  a  radio  educational  agency  is  likely  to  be 
able  to  call  on  a  more  diversified,  and  possibly  more  com- 
petent, list  of  instructors  than  is  ordinarily  found  in  any 
single  institution.  There  is  also  less  subjection  to  formalized 
curricula,  sequence  of  coures,  departmentalization,  etc. 

Whatever  the  balance  of  advantages  and  disadvantages 

CAN    A    MIKE   TEACH?  2 03 

may  be,  there  can  be  no  question  that  radio  education  has 
come  to  stay,  and  is  destined  for  a  development  far  beyond 
anything  observable  at  present.  Whether  it  is  possible,  or 
even  desirable,  to  perfect  in  radio  education  devices  for 
checking  on  the  progress  of  the  student  through  examina- 
tions, reports,  and  papers  such  as  are  used  in  standard 
education  is  a  matter  for  study  and  reflection.  But  we  can 
be  thankful  that  radio  has  already  blazed  a  trail  into  the 
wilderness  of  popular  ignorance  and  lack  of  information, 
and  that  such  institutions  as  the  WEVD  University  of  the 
Air  are  even  now  building  up  the  sound  foundation  of 
popular  intelligence  and  understanding  on  which  all  true 
democracy  must  forever  rest. 


By  Dr.  William  E.  Bohn,  Educational  Director,  Rand  School,  in  the  WEVD 
University  of  the  Air  series,  Tuesday,  June  21,  1938. 

There  has  been  a  lot  of  talk  about  giving  education  the 
privileges  of  the  air.  Not  much  has  come  of  it.  Not  much 
will  come  of  it  until  we  boot  out  of  our  studio  all  conven- 
tional educators  and  conventional  ideas.  Intelligent  people 
have  been  trying  for  a  generation  to  cut  loose  from  the  old 
schoolmasterish  methods.  Here  we  have  the  chance  of  the 
ages.  We  are  free  from  the  schoolroom,  the  blackboard,  the 
textbook,  the  outline,  the  examination — the  whole  miserable 
paraphernalia  which  has  kept  us  in  a  straight] acket.  We  have 
a  new  medium,  the  air.  The  whole  world  is  at  our  command. 
We  can  get  the  teachers  we  want,  use  any  method  which  we 
have  wit  enough  to  devise.  And — so  far — we  have  done  just 
about  nothing. 

Of  course,  there  has  been  a  good  deal  of  learning  around 
the  receiving  set.  But  there  has  been,  too,  much  improve- 
ment of  the  human  mind  at  Coney  Island.  All  of  life  is 
educational.  Horse-races,  and  prize-fights  have  probably 

204  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

pointed  many  a  man  the  way  to  a  better  life.  If  you  look  at 
it  broadly,  every  radio  program  probably  teaches  someone 
something.  The  endles  swing  music,  the  synthetic  jokes,  the 
obvious  Hollywood  exhibitionism — all  are  education.  Life 
itself  is  a  great  school.  And  the  radio  gives  us  life  distilled 
through  a  microphone. 

But  what  we  mean  by  education  is  something  different.  It 
is  a  specialized  part  of  life  designed  to  help  us  find  the  mean- 
ing of  the  whole.  It  usually  consists  of  lessons,  drills,  activi- 
ties, lectures,  books,  examinations,  marks.  Schools,  colleges, 
classes,  libraries,  correspondence  courses  are  conducted  to 
furnish  it  to  mankind.  Now  comes  the  radio,  last  and  most 
engaging  daughter  of  the  sciences.  The  schoolmaster  catches 
glimpses  of  himself  instructing  the  millions.  Sometimes  he 
has  had  the  chance.  But  his  pedagogical  voice  has  been 
drowned  by  the  click  of  countless  receiving-sets  being  turned 

So — the  use  of  radio  in  education  is  a  problem.  Nobody 
really  has  an  idea  how  to  go  about  this  business.  Nobody 
cares  much.  The  time  is  being  satisfactorily  taken  up  by 
Benny  Goodman  and  Ed  Wynn.  But  consciences  are  uneasy. 
We  have  an  idea  that  something  should  be  done. 

I  am  in  luck  about  the  main  point.  Dr.  Henry  Pratt  Fair- 
child  has  given  me  my  text.  And  Leonard  Carlton,  radio 
editor  of  the  New  York  Post,,  has  challenged  me  to  cut  loose 
about  it.  All  right.  Here  goes.  Professor  Fairchild  was  dis- 
cussing the  students  of  the  University  of  the  Air:  ''Whether 
it  is  possible,  or  even  desirable  to  perfect  devices  for  check- 
ing on  the  progress  of  the  students  through  examination,  re- 
ports, and  papers  ...  is  a  matter  for  study  and  reflection." 

I  don't  need  to  reflect  for  two  seconds  about  this  busi- 
ness. Of  course  it's  possible  to  perfect  the  devices  of  the 
class-room  for  use  over  the  air.  We  can  even  tell  little  Willie 
to  stand  in  the  corner  or  give  him  permission  to  get  a  drink 
of  water.  But  who  wants  to?  In  the  name  of  John  Dewey  and 

CAN    A    MIKE    TEACH?  2  05 

Ichabod  Crane,  are  our  brains  paralyzed?  Here  we  have  a 
chance  to  start  something  big — and  we  just  naturally  putter 
round  with  thoughts  of  little  class-room  stuff.  Radio's  job 
is  the  education  of  cities,  states,  and  nations  of  adults.  The 
test  of  accomplishment  will  be  no  meticulous  examination 
questions — acrobatic  performances  which  show  nothing  but 
the  student's  ability  to  jump  through  the  pedagogical  hoop. 
There  will  be  the  tests  of  life.  If  the  University  of  the  Air 
teaches  citizenship  to  the  people  of  New  York,  the  test  will 
be  New  York's  government.  Cities  that  pass  will  have  good 
government — and  will  be  marked  A — not  by  the  school- 
master but  by  history.  If  we  teach  health,  the  test  will  be 
the  figures  published  by  the  Department  of  Health  during 
subsequent  years.  And  when  we  get  this  thing  going — listen, 
Mr.  Carlton — we'll  give  school  boards  and  superintendents 
something  to  think  about.  If  we  have  sense  enough  not  to 
follow  them,  some  of  them  may  have  enough  sense  to  fol- 
low us. 

I  would  not  advocate  shooting  all  professional  teachers. 
They  have  their  uses.  Let's  be  fair.  What  I  am  getting  at  is 
a  very  simple  thing.  Radio  educators  must  make  a  fresh 
start,  a  start  from  scratch.  If  we  carry  the  class-room  with 
us  to  the  studio,  we  are  damned  in  advance. 

I  know  that  the  radio  has  been  used  successfully  as  a  sub- 
stitute for  the  correspondence  course — or  as  an  adjunct  to 
it.  Courses  in  Agriculture,  in  Foreign  Languages,  in  Eco- 
nomics have  been  given  over  the  air.  That  may  be  all  right 
— for  a  few  specialized  stations.  But  it  must  always  be  a 
limited  thing.  It  is  not  what  we  are  talking  about.  The  big 
job  of  radio  in  education  must  be  done  by  new  people  in 
a  new  way. 

There  are  three  great  fields  which  are  open  to  the  inno- 
vators— and  only  one  of  these  has  been  cultivated  sufficiently 
so  that  we  have  more  than  an  inkling  of  its  possibilities. 
These  three  fields  are:  i.  The  Fine  Arts;  2.  Public  Affairs; 

206  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

3.  General  Intelligence.  A  University  of  the  Air  should  have 
these  three  departments.  Its  program  for  a  given  period 
should  do  justice  to  all  three.  But — God  forbid! — the  an- 
nouncers should  never  breathe  a  word  to  the  customers 
about  departments.  Life  isn't  divided  into  departments. 
That  is  part  of  the  old  university  machinery  which  we  shall 
be  well  rid  of. 

The  one  art  which  radio  listeners  have  learned  something 
about  is  music.  There  are  fellows  whose  appreciation  never 
rose  above  ''Sweet  Adeline"  who  now  ask  for  Mozart  and 
Brahms — and  who  know  the  numbers,  recognize,  distinguish, 
discriminate.  The  program  directors  never  thought  of  musical 
programs  as  education.  That  is  why  they  have  done  pretty 
well  in  this  field.  I  am  leaving  out  of  account  the  really  swell 
job  done  by  Walter  Damrosch  and  others  in  the  field  of 
musical  pedagogy.  The  symphony  concerts — even  with  the 
current  awkward  and  mispronounced  comments — have  raised 
the  cultural  level  of  the  entire  country.  Programs  of  songs 
have  given  infinite  pleasure  and  have  widened  the  musical 
taste  of  millions  far  from  concert  halls.  The  few  operas  com- 
posed for  the  air — what  great  possibilities  there  are  in  this 

In  the  field  of  drama  we  are  just  making  a  start — though 
the  progress  made  during  the  past  season  is  enough  to  show 
that  there  is  practically  no  limit  to  future  achievements. 
Here  there  must  be  much  experimentation.  Without  the 
visible  stage  all  the  conditions  become  different.  New  plays 
must  be  written  for  this  medium,  and  the  stage-plays  must 
be  intelligently  rewritten.  We  need  a  Shakespeare  of  the  air. 
In  the  fields  of  poetry  and  story-telling  we  have  hardly  made 
a  beginning.  Yet  radio  seems  just  made  for  the  cultivation 
of  these  arts.  We  used  to  mourn  over  the  loss  suffered  by 
poetry  and  tale  through  enforced  dependence  on  cold  type. 
Well — we  can  now  have  again  the  warm  and  flexible  human 
voice  as  our  medium.  The  poet  can  speak  again  as  Homer 

CAN    A    MIKE    TEACH?  2 07 

spoke.  It  may  mean  a  great  revival.  Freed  from  print,  the 
human  spirit  may  soar  anew. 

The  greatest  of  all  fields  for  the  University  of  the  Air  is 
Public  Affairs.  The  arts  of  citizenship  can  be  taught  only 
tentatively  and  provisionally  in  school  and  college.  What 
little  is  given  in  the  realm  of  Civics,  Politics,  and  Economics 
is  so  unreal  that  it  hardly  sticks.  The  radio  teacher  gets  his 
student  in  the  midst  of  affairs — while  he  is  making  up  his 
mind  how  to  vote,  how  to  make  his  living,  how  to  solve  his 
problems.  His  listener  has  the  hottest  possible  motive  for 
taking  seriously  anyone  who  has  help  to  offer.  And  what  the 
student  receives  can  instantly  be  put  to  the  touch  of  experi- 
ence. He  can  build  it  into  his  life  as  he  goes  along.  Here  we 
have  the  field  lying  wide  open  for  the  most  realistic  educa- 
tion in  the  world. 

And  here,  especially,  we  must  cut  loose  from  academic 
notions.  If  the  President  gives  a  fireside  chat,  or  Governor 
Lehman  addresses  the  citizens,  or  Louis  Waldman  discusses 
the  state  constitution — that  is  education  in  the  deepest  sense. 
People  are  learning  what  they  need  to  know  from  the  best 
teachers — from  the  men  who  are  in  the  midst  of  affairs.  The 
professional  teacher  is — at  best — but  a  substitute  for  the 
real  thing.  Men  and  women  of  action  bring  the  learner  in 
direct  contact  with  reality.  Thus — while  the  so-called  edu- 
cational work  of  the  broadcasting  stations  has  been  pretty 
bad — a  lot  of  good  work  has  been  done — and  has  not  been 
labeled  education.  Politicians,  business  executives,  labor 
leaders,  professional  men  have  done  a  first  class  job. 

Then  why  not  let  well-enough  alone?  Because  the  field 
has  been  by  no  means  covered.  Program  directors  should 
ask  themselves  the  question:  "What  do  American  citizens 
need  to  know?  What  do  they  need  to  know  in  order  to  vote? 
In  order  to  find  their  way  out  of  the  depression?  In  order 
to  educate  their  children?  In  order  to  select  their  profes- 
sions? In  general — radio  can  give  them  the  necessary  in- 

208  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

sights  into  the  community  life — can  give  what  college  stu- 
dents should  get  out  of  Economics,  Sociology,  History, 
Politics.  And  the  students  will  take  it  easily,  vitally,  from 
people  to  whom  they  listen  gladly. 

This  means  that  directors  must  have  programs,  ideas, 
schemes.  They  must  be  ingenious  in  rinding  men  and  women 
who  can  put  over  the  things  which  should  be  presented.  If 
they  depend  on  professional  teachers  to  put  over  a  uni- 
versity course,  they  will  be  defeated  in  advance.  Suppose, 
for  example,  that  we  want  to  teach  Economics.  We  will  not 
outline  a  course  beginning  with  Adam  Smith.  We  will  start 
with  the  depression.  Perhaps  we  will  be  even  more  realistic. 
We  will  start  with  unemployment.  We  can  get  even  closer 
to  the  ground  than  that.  We  can  start  with  the  listeners  of 
one  station  who  are  unemployed.  We  will  get  the  facts.  Then 
we  will  get  the  best  men  from  trade  unions,  from  the  U.  S. 
Department  of  Labor,  from  the  research  bureaus.  We  will 
get  a  picture  of  the  situation  from  them.  Then  will  come 
human-interest  writers  to  give  their  picture.  The  greatest 
authors  will  be  glad  to  help.  Then  will  come  the  social  engi- 
neers to  describe  the  working  of  our  industrial  system  and  to 
tell  just  what  happens  as  a  depression  goes  on.  Then  we  will 
bring  on  the  theorists  and  politicians,  the  New  Deal  men, 
the  conservatives,  the  Socialists,  any  distinguished  man  or 
woman  who  has  a  right  to  be  heard  on  the  cause  and  cure 
of  depressions.  Then  will  come  the  experts  on  special  phases, 
on  child-labor,  on  unemployment  insurance,  on  vocational 
training  and  guidance,  on  purchasing  power,  wages,  mar- 
kets, profits.  People  will  get  the  inside  facts  on  this  whole 
business  of  economic  living.  We  will  not  have  a  speaker 
who  is  not  an  authority,  not  one  to  whom  people  will  not 
listen  gladly.  The  addresses  need  not  follow  a  prescribed 
order.  The  sequence  may  be  altered  to  follow  the  current  of 
events,  or  to  bring  in  a  speaker  who  is  in  the  headlines.  In 

CAN    A    MIKE    TEACH?  2C>g 

the  course  of  one  season  students  can  learn  Economics  more 
vitally  than  most  students  ever  learn  it  in  college. 

Radio  developments  during  the  past  season  prove  that 
people  are  hungering  for  what  may  be  called  general  knowl- 
edge. All  of  these  questionnaires,  in  the  magazines,  all  of 
the  question-and-answer  periods  on  the  radio,  all  of  these 
fool  games  that  people  play  at  parties — they  prove  some- 
thing. A  lot  of  people  can  get  tired  of  being  ignorant.  They 
want — at  least — to  have  a  little  knowledge  to  show  off  with. 
They  can't  take  courses  in  physics  or  chemistry.  But  here 
is  this  magic  world.  They  are  curious  about  radio,  about 
cosmic  rays,  about  strange  lands,  about  climates,  jungles, 
strange  beasts.  Consider  how  many  tuned  in  on  Admiral 
Byrd  when  he  was  in  the  Antarctic.  This  thirst  for  knowledge 
can  be  satisfied  much  better  than  the  radio  is  even  trying 
to  do  it  now.  Here  the  popularizers  may  well  be  called  in 
to  supplement  the  great  scientists,  inventors,  explorers.  In 
the  course  of  a  year  a  program  can  swing  pretty  well  round 
the  circle  of  the  sciences. 

I  am  conscious  of  the  fact  that  in  some  of  these  fields  we 
are  dealing  with  dynamite.  The  propagandist  is  always  at 
hand  to  give  his  own  twist  to  the  facts.  The  program  builder 
is  in  a  position  of  public  trust.  If — in  a  field  like  Economics, 
Medicine,  or  International  Affairs — there  are  vital  differences 
of  opinion,  it  is  his  business  to  hold  the  balance  true,  to  see 
that  the  listeners  get  a  true  picture.  In  the  course  of  weeks 
or  months  all  important  points  of  view  must  be  presented. 
Educational  radio  cannot  accept  the  limits  which  seem  to  be 
binding  upon  commercial  radio.  We  shall  not  be  trying  to 
sell  the  listener  something.  We  shall  be  trying  to  give  his 
mind  every  chance  to  use  the  facts. 

But — for  the  University  of  the  Air — the  one  unforgivable 
sin  is  dullness.  It  is  wicked  enough  in  all  radio  programs. 
The  great  complaint  which  the  American  people  have  a 
right  to  make  against  the  current  fare  is  that  it  is  monoto- 

21O  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

nous,  unvaried,  unimaginative,  drab,  unspiced,  tasteless. 
It  has  a  good  deal  of  artificial  snappiness,  but  not  much  real 
verve.  It  lacks — especially — humor.  Men  who  are  funny  as 
Mark  Twain  or  Bill  Nye  at  a  party  become  drab  as  village 
parsons  the  moment  they  face  the  microphone.  To  explain 
this  curious  fact  in  a  nation  that  would  sell  its  soul  for 
smartness  we  would  have  to  go  too  far  back  in  the  psychology 
of  this  business.  All  that  I  can  say  now  is  that  the  University 
of  the  Air  must  break  away  from  the  tradition  of  dullness. 
It  must  speak  with  a  genuine  and  human  voice,  with  the 
lively  accents  of  real  life.  Reality  must  flow  out  over  the 
waves  sharply,  quickly,  vividly.  The  minute  a  speaker  grows 
dull  he  must  be  shot.  The  crack  of  the  revolver  ringing  out 
of  the  receiving  sets  will  serve  as  a  guarantee  to  customers 
that  they  can  learn  without  being  bored  to  death.  Thus  radio 
will  make  a  supreme  contribution  to  educational  theory  and 



FROM  time  to  time  critics  have  predicted  that  the  ether 
clown  would  sound  his  own  death  knell  on  the  air.  No 
such  obsequies  have  come  to  pass.  Today  entrenched  before 
the  microphone,  the  radio  comedian  sits  securely  on  his 
sponsored  throne. 

Test  the  comedian's  power  by  his  high-bracket  income. 
Jack  Benny,  in  1937,  signed  a  three  year  non-cancellable 
contract  involving  close  to  three  million  dollars.  According 
to  Walter  Winchell,  Bob  Burns'  income  in  1935,  before  he 
won  acclaim  on  the  air,  was  exactly  three  thousand  seven 
hundred  dollars.  By  1937,  Burns'  income  was  over  four 
hundred  and  fifty  thousand  dollars.  Eddie  Cantor  topped 
them  all  with  sixteen  thousand  five  hundred  dollars  per 

Let  us  cast  a  glance  backward  at  the  reason  for  the  rise 
of  the  comedian.  Radio  comedy  owes  more  to  the  late  David 
Freedman  than  to  any  other  writer.  He  was  the  alchemist  of 
wit  who  popularized  the  method  of  compounding  jokes 
drawn  from  huge  files.  He  knew  more  jokes  than  any  other 
man  of  his  time  and  constantly  refreshed  his  memory  from 
a  working  stock  of  nearly  seventy-five  thousand.  He  became 
the  first  "write-hand"  man  of  Eddie  Cantor  when  the  goggle- 
eyed  comedian  first  went  on  the  air  in  1931.  Until  the  time 
of  his  death  in  1937,  Freedman  was  the  most  prolific  com- 
piler and  writer  of  radio  skits,  regularly  supplying  the  comic 
pabulum  of  Cantor,  George  Givot,  Joe  Cook,  Helen  Men- 
ken, Block  and  Sully,  Jimmy  Durante  and  scores  of  others. 

Freedman  made  the  first  attempt  to  give  radio  comedy 


212  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

form  and  structure.  He  was  the  first  to  prophesy  that  there 
would  come  about  a  famine  in  gags,  the  first  to  seek  an  ap- 
proach to  humor  in  the  events  of  the  day.  He  died  while  in 
the  midst  of  a  lawsuit  which  asked  for  a  verdict  of  two  hun- 
dred and  fifty  thousand  dollars  for  jokes,  gags  and  dialogue 
which  he  had  furnished  Cantor  for  programs  over  a  period 
of  years. 

Freedman's  skill  in  adapting  sound  and  sense  is  instanced 
in  this  specimen  of  dialogue  produced  for  Eddie  Cantor,  en- 
titled, "When  you  lose  at  Bridge — and  When  you  Win": 

Cantor:  I'm  going  to  give  you  my  impression  of  a  husband 
and  wife  coming  home  after  losing  at  bridge.  (Music — Three 
O'Clock  in  the  Morning.) 

Wife:  You're  gonna  drive  me  out  of  my  mind. 

Cantor:  That's  no  drive — that's  a  putt. 

Wife:  You're  so  bright  they  named  a  town  after  you — 

Cantor:  You're  such  a  good  card  player  they  named  a 
game  after  you — Rummy.  (Crash  of  milk  bottles.)  Did  you 
put  those  bottles  in  front  of  the  door  so  I'd  break  my  neck? 

Wife:  No,  but  it's  a  good  idea.  You're  sore  because  we 
lost  at  bridge. 

Cantor:  I'm  not.  I'm  sore  because  your  mother  came  to 
spend  a  week-end  and  has  been  here  for  a  year  and  a  half. 
I'm  sore  because  you  gave  me  a  veal  chop  that  sprained 
my  jaw. 

Wife:  Why,  whatever  I  cook  I  put  my  heart  into. 

Cantor:  No  wonder  it  was  tough  as  steel.  (Baby  cries.) 

Wife:  Now  you  woke  up  the  baby. 

Cantor:  What's  he  always  hollering  about? 

Wife:  He's  teething. 

Cantor:  Teething?  What  does  he  need  teeth  for  at  his  age? 

Mother:  What's  that  racket? 

Cantor:  What's  your  mother  hollering  about — she  teeth- 
ing too? 

Wife:  Mother's  been  nursing  a  grouch  for  two  weeks. 

Cantor:  I  didn't  know  your  father  was  sick.  Listen,  I'm 
hungry.  What  happened  to  that  roast  duck  in  the  icebox? 


Wife:  Mother  ate  it.  She's  so  fond  of  duck  she'd  give  half 
her  life  for  one. 

Cantor:  Oh  Yeah?  Tomorrow  night,  I'll  bring  two! 

Cantor:  Now  I'll  show  you  what  happens  when  the  same 
couple  wins  at  bridge. 

Cantor:  Good  old  sweet  home!  Let  me  open  the  door  for 
you,  Toodles. 

(Happy  laughter) 

Wife:  Oh,  did  you  hurt  yourself,  dearest? 

Cantor:  No,  Poopsy.  Gee,  it  was  awfully  sweet  of  your 
Mother  to  come  and  mind  the  baby. 

Wife:  Darling,  you're  so  sweet  when  you  win  at  bridge. 

Cantor:  Why  Snooksy,  I'm  the  same  whether  I  win  or 
lose.  I'm  just  happy  because  I'm  married  to  the  loveliest 
little  wifey  in  the  world. 

(Baby  cries) 

Cantor:  Oh,  I  woke  up  the  baby.  What  a  shame.  How  is 
the  little  angel? 

Wife:  He's  teething. 

Cantor:  Poor  little  man!  But  won't  we  be  proud  of  his 
first  little  toothy-woothy? 

Mother:  Is  that  you,  Tessie? 

Cantor:  Your  dear  darling  mother  is  up.  Mother,  Tessie 
played  divinely. 

Wife:  No,  mother.  It  was  Eddie  who  played  like  a  master. 

Cantor:  No,  Lovey-ducky,  it  was  you.  When  you  played 
that  Kingy-wingy  on  the  Jack-wacky  and  won  the  tricky- 
wicky,  we  made  a  grand  slammy-wammy  and  that  won  the 
gamey-wamey  for  us,  sugar  pie.  Look,  honey,  I'm  hungry. 
Is  there  anything  to  eat  in  the  housey-wousey?  What  about 
that  nice  roast  ducky-wucky? 

Wife:  Mother  ate  it. 

Cantor:  Oh,  she  ate  it,  huh?  Didn't  she  leave  me  a  teeny- 

Wife:  You  know  how  mother  loves  roast  ducky.  She'd 
give  half  her  life  for  one. 

Cantor:  Oh,  Yeah?  Then  tomorrow  night  I'll  STILL 
bring  two  ducky-wuckies. 

214  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

The  writer  of  radio  comedy  is  loath  to  admit  his  leaning 
on  Joe  Miller  who,  if  not  an  "original"  punster,  at  least  sup- 
plied the  spirit  and  the  method  of  the  wisecrack. 

Joe  Miller,  long  dead,  may  never  have  cracked  a  pun  in 
his  life.  When  he  passed  away  on  August  16,  1738,  he  was 
but  an  obscure  actor  who  played  small  roles  such  as  the  First 
Grave  Digger  in  Hamlet.  A  "lamentable  friend  and  former 
companion,"  as  he  describes  himself,  one  Elijah  Jenkins, 
Jr.,  saved  Miller  from  oblivion.  He  made  arrangements  with 
a  London  publisher  to  print  a  seventy-two  page  book  under 
the  title  "Joe  Miller's  Jests,  or  the  Wit's  Vade-Mecum." 
Being  a  collection  of  the  most  elegant  bon  mots  and  the  most 
pleasant  short  stories  in  the  English  language,  first  carefully 
collected  in  the  company  and  many  of  them  transcribed  from 
the  mouth  of  the  facetious  gentleman  whose  name  they 
bear.  .  .  ." 

The  volume,  successively  issued  over  the  centuries,  con- 
tains a  typical  classic  quip  of  the  man  who  saw  people  sneak- 
ing out  of  church  and  remarked,  "The  minister  is  giving 
us  a  moving  discourse."  And  again,  the  smart  protest  which 
has  a  modern  flavor,  "He  couldn't  have  died  insolvent,  be- 
cause he  died  in  England." 

The  New  Comic  Glossary 

The  comic  writer  plays  safe  and  respects  tradition.  He  col- 
lects, revamps,  reinterprets,  readapts  the  seven  basic  jokes 
that  have  been  allocated  to  mankind.  He  must  make  the  old 
joke  taste  savory.  He  lards  the  joke  with  current  reference, 
and  then  bakes  it  under  the  comic  heat.  When  all  the  wrap- 
pings and  trimmings  are  plucked  away,  the  new  joke  is  the 
old  joke  over  again. 

The  pilfering  from  ancient  joke  files  has  been  prodigious. 
The  quality  of  greatness  in  a  radio  comedian  is  to  put  his 
"steal"  of  approval  on  a  joke  and  so  disguise  it  that  someone 


else  will  steal  it.  Bob  Burns  uses  a  lot  of  revamped  Joe 
Miller  jokes,  and  once  told  Dinty  Doyle  that  he  has  been 
telling  the  same  yarns  for  ten  years  and  that  he  hopes  to  con- 
tinue for  ten  more.  A  joke  that  is  so  old  that  it  is  forgotten 
is  automatically  regarded  as  "new."  Fortunately,  we  quickly 
forget.  We  come  upon  the  same  incident  time  and  time  again 
and  barely  recognize  it.  We  forget  what  made  us  laugh  and 
somehow  look  to  the  system  of  ideas  that  the  comedian  is 
using  for  the  moment. 

A  brief  glossary  must  include  the  idiom  devised  by  Dave 
Freedman:  A  "technocrat"  is  a  great  gag  that  cannot  be 
fitted  into  a  script;  a  "dragola"  is  an  off-color  joke;  a  "buf- 
faroo"  is  a  powerful  gag  almost  sure  to  evoke  a  belly  laugh; 
a  "weakie"  is  a  feeble  jest  that  goes  in  a  script  until  a  better 
one  is  found;  "ti  ti  mi  tita"  is  a  sophisticated  Park  Avenue 
gag;  a  "hup  cha  de  bup  cha"  is  a  sure-fire  laugh;  "dyna- 
mite" is  material  that  can't  miss. 

New  additions  to  radio's  joke  vocabulary  are  constantly 
born.  Certain  jokes  are  called  "cheaters."  A  "cheater"  is  a 
joke  written  into  the  script  but  omitted  during  rehearsal 
in  front  of  the  orchestra.  By  holding  it  back  until  the  broad- 
cast, the  musicians  are  surprised,  laugh  very  heartily,  and 
the  comedian  gets  the  support  of  fresh  loud  laughter  close 
to  the  microphone.  The  "running  gag"  is  a  hangover  from 
vaudeville  and  burlesque.  The  same  joke  recurs  persistently 
in  each  of  a  series  of  comic  sketches.  From  week  to  week 
the  comedian  refers  to  some  physical  characteristic  or  per- 
sonal trait  of  a  member  of  the  cast.  Jack  Benny  kept  wise- 
cracking weekly  regarding  the  spats  worn  by  Don  Bestor, 
his  orchestra  leader,  and  Gracie  Allen  made  continual  quips 
about  Jack  Renard's  "tummy." 

dnce  A-Pun  a  Time 

From  its  inception,  radio  comedy  consisted  mainly  of 
straight  monologues  or  dialogues.  A  dozen  or  more  puns 

2l6  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

and  gags  were  the  comedian's  stock  in  trade.  The  comedian 
entered  wholly  into  alliance  with  his  joke  books,  and  was 
equipped  to  start  on  his  merry-go-round. 

The  simplest  form  of  humor  is  the  pun,  which  is  a  play 
on  words.  The  play  on  words  is  endless,  and  is  common  to  all 
languages.  The  technique  consists  of  directing  attention  to 
the  sound  of  the  words  rather  than  to  the  sense  of  the  word. 
Through  similarity  in  sound,  words  are  twisted  out  of  their 
original  meaning;  one  word  is  made  to  do  the  duty  of  two 
words.  It  all  seems  so  easy  and  senseless,  yet  the  world  laughs 
at  such  things  as  this: 

Jimmy:  Say,  Eddie,  did  you  ever  make  any  money  out  of 
that  chicken  ranch  of  yours?  Eddie:  Oh,  just  a  few  poultry 

Or,  such  a  notion  as  was  heard  on  a  Georgie  Price  Ama- 
teur Comedy  Writers  Program  in  1937,  the  script  about 
Louis  and  Farr:  Question:  "Did  you  ever  box?"  Answer: 
"Yes,  I  used  to  box  oranges." 

The  gag  is  generally  based  on  exaggeration  upwards  or 
downwards.  Things  are  enlarged  to  grotesque  proportions 
or  dwarfed  until  they  seem  ridiculous.  We  are  offered  a  new 
and  surprising  pattern  of  life  to  which  we  are  unaccustomed. 
Men  do  not  put  acetylene  torches  to  help  one  light  a  ciga- 
rette, as  does  Groucho,  nor  do  women  powder  their  faces 
with  marshmallow  as  Schnozzle  Durante  would  have  us 

The  listener,  who  sees  the  true  relation  of  things,  is  tricked 
into  laughter  by  the  attempt  at  hoodwinking  his  senses.  If 
the  gag  achieves  this  triumph,  it  is  a  "good"  gag,  though  it 
bears  the  mark  of  antiquity.  In  1931  every  radio  comedian 
was  following  the  "straight"  routine.  This  consisted  of  line 
for  line  business.  Jimmy  Wallington  would  feed  Cantor  the 
"straight"  line  and  Cantor  would  snap  back  with  the  punch 
line.  A  series  of  gags  was  hooked  together  without  any  par- 
ticular system  or  continuity,  or,  like  Ed  Wynn's  early  "opera 

RADIO    COMEDIANS    ARE    SUCH    UNFUNNY    PEOPLE          2 17 

programs,"  were  nothing  more  than  gag  monologues.  No 
matter  what  pattern  comedy  takes  on,  the  despised  gag  still 
holds  forth  lustily.  Fred  Allen  claims  that  in  this  decade  the 
radio  comic  has  risen  from  "gags  to  riches."  However  skil- 
fully disguised,  always  there  must  be  the  funny  line. 

Mort  Lewis,  who  wrote  comedy  scripts  for  Ed  Wynn,  Ben 
Bernie,  Burns  and  Allen,  maintains  that  the  gag  is  not  going 
out  of  style.  "The  gag,"  he  says,  "is  still  the  backbone  of 
nine-tenths  of  radio  comedy.  And  that  goes  for  Benny,  Baker, 
Cantor,  Wynn  or  Pic  and  Pat.  Unless  you're  a  mimic  or  a 
dialect  slinger,  it's  the  gag  that  pays  off.  As  for  the  gag  man 
becoming  extinct  because  most  comics  are  writing  their  own 
material  today — that's  bunk.  Most  of  the  radio  comics  can't 
write.  Even  those  who  do,  for  the  most  part,  require  as- 
sistance. And  they'll  continue  to  require  it,  script  writing 
being  the  high  pressure  racket  that  it  is." 

The  Comedy  of  Situation 

Comedy  on  the  air  was  compelled  to  seek  new  techniques 
in  order  to  escape  annihilation.  The  formula  of  a  string  of 
he-and-she  jokes  had  become  decrepit.  A  new  schemata  was 
devised,  a  new  framework  which  has  been  termed  the  com- 
edy of  "situation."  Every  variety  of  episode  offers  grist  for 
the  comedian's  mill.  The  theory  is  that  the  comedian  could 
never  run  out  of  jokes  if  he  clung  to  human  situations,  and 
topical  events.  The  world  keeps  moving.  The  comic  is 
squeezed  out  of  any  scene:  A  domestic  squabble  in  the 
kitchen,  a  visit  to  the  World's  Fair,  or  to  the  circus,  high 
jinks  at  the  opera,  at  the  race  track,  or  wherever  you  are. 
The  dialogue  creates  a  definite  picture  of  the  locale  and 
gives  a  swift  impression  of  the  situation  involved. 

In  vaudeville,  the  jokes  were  built  up  on  front  of  a  drop 
that  helped  establish  the  locale — say  Times  Square,  Main 
Street,  or  a  woodland  retreat.  The  radio  comedy  of  "situa- 

2l8  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

tion"  makes  its  locale  quite  as  definite.  A  brief  twenty 
words  or  so  gives  the  listener  the  setting  and  the  locale.  The 
dialogue  is  brisk  and  involves  heckling  the  comedian  by 
all  the  performers.  Every  phase  of  the  situation  exposes  a 
human  failing  open  to  smart  interchange  of  the  quip.  Such 
a  treatment  of  comedy  demands  an  informal  style.  Here  is 
where  the  skill  of  the  writer  must  remove  all  traces  of  the 
mechanical  unfolding  of  a  joke.  In  the  Burns  and  Allen 
episodes  the  effect  is  that  of  "nut"  comedy,  and  repartee 
seems  to  flow  from  the  situation  without  effort. 

Eddie  Cantor  started  his  radio  career  with  a  recital  of 
funny  stories.  For  a  long  time  he  remained  the  disciple  of 
old  gags  coddled  into  being  by  a  straight  man  or  a  dialect 
stooge.  In  January  1938,  he  began  to  pattern  his  program 
after  the  informal  conversational  style  of  Jack  Benny.  Occa- 
sionally he  makes  an  abrupt  switch  back  to  his  old  habit  of 
using  straight  men  and  stooges.  It  is  the  spirit  of  Eddie 
Cantor  that  pervades  each  of  his  programs  and,  though  his 
material  is  quite  the  same,  he  surrounded  himself  with  a 
whole  set  of  familiar  people — Parkyakarkus,  Jimmie  Wal- 
lington,  Bobbie  Breen,  the  mad  Russian,  each  of  whom 
represented  a  distinct  personality. 

Eddie  Cantor's  change  in  style  is  quite  noticeable.  He  is 
leaning  toward  the  Jack  Benny  style;  shows  three  significant 
changes  of  method  in  getting  across:  i.  He  speaks  a  little 
more  casually.  2.  He  does  not  utter  his  punch  lines  with  the 
same  yell  as  heretofore,  and  generally  subdues  the  emphasis 
on  climaxes.  3.  He  escapes  from  the  routine  of  feed-line 

Jack  Benny — Radio's  Funnyman  No.  i 

The  most  successful  exponent  of  "informal"  comedy  is 
Benjamin  Kubelsky,  renamed  Jack  Benny,  who  was  born  in 
Waukegan,  Illinois.  His  style  deserves  study. 

Aside  from  Franklin  D.  Roosevelt,  Benny,  forty-six  year 


old  Funny  Man,  is  regarded  as  the  biggest  voice  in  radio. 
With  a  Crossley  rating  of  42.4,  an  estimated  audience  of 
eleven  million  families  gives  him  ear  every  week.  He  is 
aided  and  abetted  by  his  wife  and  former  vaudeville  partner, 
Mary  Livingstone.  He  plays  a  timorous  and  boastful  charac- 
ter to  the  delight  of  an  audience  that  understands. 

Since  1934,  he  has  held  his  place  as  America's  Funnyman 
No.  i,  and  ace  salesman  of  the  air  outranked  in  popularity 
only  by  Charlie  McCarthy.  At  a  cost  of  twelve  thousand 
dollars  a  week  for  personal  salary,  and  at  an  additional  ex- 
pense of  fifteen  thousand  dollars  for  time  and  co-talent,  his 
sponsors  regard  him  as  perfect  investment  in  entertainment. 
For,  with  Benny  at  the  comedian's  helm  for  the  past  four 
years,  the  Good  Ship  Business  rides  straight  to  port,  and 
brings  home  General  Foods. 

Benny  reached  radio  by  way  of  the  vaudeville  stage  on 
which  he  was  not  a  great  sensation.  He  did  a  monologue  and 
kidded  his  audience  with  punch  lines  while  toying  with  a 
big  cigar  and  a  fiddle  which  he  did  not  play.  Encouraged 
to  apply  for  an  audition,  he  got  together  a  string  of  jokes 
and  was  impressed  into  radio  by  General  Tires  in  1932. 
Canada  Dry  and  Chevrolet  successively  sponsored  him  until 
Jell-O  claimed  him  in  1934. 

Harry  Conn  is  responsible  for  many  of  the  prevailing 
methods  of  informal  comedy.  He  wrote  nearly  two  hundred 
and  fifty  shows  for  Jack  Benny  and  originated  the  notion 
of  involving  the  whole  cast  in  the  act.  He  was  the  first  to 
write  travesties  on  literary  classics.  He  can  take  credit  for 
making  it  possible  for  Jack  Benny's  wife  to  become  the 
comedienne.  One  of  Conn's  scripts  called  for  an  extra  part, 
and  Benny  induced  his  wife  to  play  the  role  under  the  name 
of  Mary  Livingstone. 

Like  most  writers  of  radio  comedy,  Conn's  versatility  did 
not  last,  and  when  he  essayed  a  comedy  role  on  the  air 
himself,  he  proved  to  be  a  failure.  Moral:  Comedian,  stick 
to  your  last! 

220  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

First  Principles  of  "Informality" 

The  following  principles  guide  the  writing  and  produc- 
tion of  "informal"  comedy: 

1.  The  aim  is  to  take  any  experience  or  situation  and  de- 
velop it  with  the  hearty  exchange  of  little  quips  and  puns. 
The  listener  is  led  on  to  successive  ludicrous  surprises,  with- 
out any  attempt  to  trouble  the  intellect. 

2.  To  unify  the  "situation,"  members  of  the  cast  are  in- 
cluded in  the  "plot."  Benny  is  verbally  torn  to  shreds  by  his 
associates  and  is  led  into  a  debacle  from  which  there  is  no 
escape  except  in  the  inevitable  laugh.  The  pattern  of  the 
comedy  is  the  "skit"  or  pure  farce. 

3.  The  dialogue  (a)  sets  the  scene;  (b)  lends  picture  effects; 
(c)  vivifies  the  situation;  and  (d)  provides  those  descriptive 
touches  which  instantly  provoke  the  imagination. 

4.  Benny  is  the  target  for  most  of  the  jokes,  and  so  his 
mild  and  ineffectual  protests  and  explanations  make  him  the 
object  of  sympathy. 

The  formula  calls  for  the  use  of  "eye  and  ear"  gags  rather 
than  what  might  be  termed  "ear"  gags.  "Ear"  gags  cause  a 
laugh  because  of  double  meanings  or  some  distortion  in 
sound.  The  "ear  and  eye"  gags  involve  a  swift  logic  of  situa- 
tions which  enables  the  listener  to  picture  the  scene,  give 
a  fleeting  glance  backwards  and  enrich  the  whole  concept 
of  the  relationship  of  the  characters. 

The  comedy  of  "situation"  involves  a  slower  unfolding  of 
the  joke  without  impeding  the  speed  of  the  action.  A  certain 
groundwork  must  be  established  to  ensure  the  "picture." 
Repetitions  and  timing  are  part  of  the  success.  Instead  of 
striking  the  ear  as  a  "plant,"  the  joke  flows  intimately  from 
the  situation  and  appears  to  be  a  logical  part  of  the  pattern. 
The  gags  are  never  an  end  in  themselves.  If  the  listener  sus- 
pects the  gags  have  been  forced  to  fit  the  situation,  the  de- 
vice would  destroy  the  "natural"  scheme  of  things. 

RADIO    COMEDIANS    ARE    SUCH    UNFUNNY    PEOPLE          221 

Commercials  are  placed  in  the  script  so  that  they  seem  an 
integral  part  of  the  comics.  When  Benny  counters  with  Don 
Wilson,  the  announcer,  the  sales  message  becomes  the  pre- 
text for  banter  that  elevates  the  laughing  spirit  with  Jell-O 
and  its  six  flavors. 

The  Coming  of  the  Stooge 

The  history  of  the  radio  stooge  is  wrapped  in  controversy. 
There  are  many  claimants  for  first  honor  of  inducting  the 
stooge  on  the  air. 

S.  J.  Kaufman,  in  the  Drama  Mailbag  of  the  New  York 
Times,  casts  enlightenment  on  the  development  of  the 
stooge.  He  turns  to  the  days  of  early  vaudeville  when  teams 
got  their  laughs  when  one  of  them  twisted  and  tortured  the 
English  language.  "The  twister  was  the  comedian,"  says 
Kaufman.  "The  other  talked  'straight'  and  in  the  trade  was 
called  a  'straight  man.'  It  was  the  duty  of  the  straight  man  to 
feed  the  comic  in  such  a  way  that  the  laughs  were  certain 
and  definite.  The  straight  man  of  old  vaudeville  days  now 
has  the  radio  name  of  'stooge'." 

The  "straight  man"  or  "stooge"  ordinarily  would  be  the 
one  who  did  not  get  the  laughs.  Today  the  comedian  snares 
the  laughs.  The  peculiar  development  of  radio  comedy  often 
makes  the  comedian  "straight"  man  for  his  stooge.  Kaufman 
sets  this  test  for  deciding  which  one  of  the  team  is  the  comic: 
"The  one  who  is  abused  is  the  comic."  Thus,  when  Al  Jol- 
son  clowns  with  Parkyakarkus  and  acts  as  "straight"  man  for 
Martha  Raye,  his  status  as  comedian  varies  with  the  nature 
of  the  treatment  accorded  him  by  his  partners. 

Originally  the  stooge  was  planted  in  the  audience  for  the 
special  purpose  of  doing  his  best  to  heckle  the  performer  on 
the  stage.  For  many  years  Phil  Baker's  act  in  vaudeville  in- 
cluded a  stooge  who  sat  in  a  box  and  constantly  interrupted 
his  efforts  on  the  stage.  Baker  discovered  that  the  audience 

222  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

sympathized  with  the  heckler  and  gave  the  interrupter  the 
greatest  amount  of  applause.  The  heckler  was  soon  intro- 
duced to  radio  in  the  person  of  a  stooge  whose  malevolent 
voice  broke  in  on  the  program  with  the  command:  "Get  off 
the  air!"  at  which  Baker  sprang  to  the  defense:  "Pay  no  at- 
tention to  that  scorpion!" 

Today,  surrounded  by  satellites  who  have  full  freedom 
to  heckle,  the  comedian  makes  humor  out  of  human  situa- 
tions. Fred  Allen,  in  his  early  routine,  packed  Town  Hall 
with  a  group  of  annoyers;  Gracie  Allen  used  as  her  foil  the 
orchestra  leader,  Jacques  Renard,  and  the  announcer,  Ted 
Husing;  and  Bob  Hope  provided  a  feminine  stooge  in  the 
person  of  Honey  Chile. 

The  radio  stooge  is  coming  into  his  own.  The  old-fash- 
ioned stage  comedian  used  to  abuse  his  stooge  by  knocking 
him  on  the  head  with  a  bladder.  The  radio  comedian  has 
altered  this  tradition.  Today  the  stooge  has  his  comeback  of 
free  speech  and  the  right  of  self-defense.  He  has  risen  in 
popularity  because  the  listener  finds  in  him  a  champion 
and  a  spokesman  against  grievances  and  abuses  under  which 
the  listener  ordinarily  is  compelled  to  remain  silent.  The 
stooge  is  thus  the  vicarious  master  of  words  that  sting  and 
provoke.  He  picks  up  the  gauntlet  and  flings  it  at  his  tor- 
mentor. He  becomes  the  supreme  heckler  who  shows  up  the 
foibles  of  one  who  pretends  to  be  his  master. 

The  radio  comedian  who  knows  showmanship  no  longer 
monopolizes  all  the  smart  lines  by  making  his  stooge  a  me- 
chanical feeder.  It  was  Cantor's  intention  to  develop  Rubi- 
noff  into  a  stooge,  but  the  violinst  was  sensitive  about  his 
thick  Russian  dialect,  and  Wallington  fell  heir  to  the  job 
in  "straight"  talk,  Rubinoff  remaining  a  silent  stooge.  Can- 
tor ascribes  his  own  success  to  his  willingness  to  become  the 
recipient  of  his  stooge's  sting.  He  advises:  "I  could  take  his 
lines,  but  I  don't  want  to.  Why?  Because  when  he  heckles 
me,  I'm  the  under-dog.  If  we  reverse  the  situation,  I'm  on 


top,  and  the  listeners  resent  me.  They  don't  like  the  wise 

It  is  claimed  that  Groucho  and  Chico  Marx  were  the  first 
to  use  the  stooge  in  radio  comedy  style.  They  stumbled  on 
the  broadcast  formula  in  1933.  The  practice  of  Groucho  was 
to  heckle  Chico.  As  a  result,  the  under-dog  commanded  the 
sympathy  of  hosts  of  listeners.  Chico  was  getting  ninety  per 
cent  of  the  fan  mail  and  applause. 

The  success  of  the  single  stooge  soon  provided  the  in- 
spiration for  programs  with  multiple  stooges.  The  stooge 
progeny  has  become  prolific.  Writers  are  called  upon  to 
create  hecklers,  and  the  obscure  stooge  was  endowed  with 
distinct  character.  The  stooge  is  often  given  dialect  to  add 
to  his  stock-in-trade,  and  to  identify  his  peculiarities. 

The  very  success  of  the  comedian  is  due  to  the  mock  de- 
fiance of  the  persuasive  stooges  that  surround  him.  "This 
business  of  being  funny  on  the  air  has  gone  beyond  the 
talents  of  any  two  performers,"  says  George  Burns.  "The 
clown  on  the  air  today  is  like  a  baseball  pitcher;  he  merely 
hurls  and  curves  the  ball  across  the  plate.  He  needs  plenty 
of  team-play  and  support." 

Framing  the  Comedian 

The  tendency  today  is  to  unify  the  comedian's  efforts 
about  some  framework  or  central  theme.  This  framework 
is  a  sort  of  main  trunk  with  spreading  branches  to  which  the 
gags  may  be  attached.  Phil  Baker  edits  a  newspaper;  Jack 
Oakie  assumes  the  presidency  of  Oakie  College;  Stoopnagle 
and  Budd  become  "inventors"  who  conceived  such  fantastic 
devices  as  wigs  with  hair  that  stands  on  end  for  bald  men 
reading  mystery  stories. 

The  comic  writer  is  at  his  wits'  end  for  some  theme  which 
will  bear  serial  repetition  and  at  the  same  time  be  entirely 
refreshed  at  each  performance.  Once  the  background  is  es- 

224  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

tablished,  the  routine  is  more  easily  understood  and  more 
eagerly  followed  by  the  listeners.  Sometimes  the  "situation" 
seems  forced,  as  was  Eddie  Cantor's  effort  to  squeeze  humor 
out  of  an  interview  with  an  engaged  couple  each  week.  The 
bride-and-groom-to-be  were  presented  with  a  check  of  one 
hundred  dollars  for  their  appearance.  They  deserved  it. 

The  framework  of  the  comedian  changes  from  time  to 
time.  Fred  Allen  uses  a  variety  of  basic  situations:  (i)  "Town 
Hall  News,  Sees  Nothing,  Tells  All";  (2)  Interviews  with 
The  Man  You  Did  Not  Expect  to  Meet,  a  comic  appraisal  of 
the  work  of  extraordinary  personalities  unearthed  by  Uncle 
Jim  Hawkins,  assistant  to  Allen;  (3)  the  Portland  spot;  (4) 
Fantastic  burlesque  sketches  by  the  Mighty  Allen  Art 

During  1937,  Ed  Wynn  introduced  the  style  not  only  of 
introducing  guest  stars,  but  making  them  allies  in  his  com- 
edy scheme.  The  comedy  develops  from  the  absurdity  of 
Wynn  playing  opposite  a  noted  Ophelia,  or  attempting  a 
duet  with  a  musical  artist,  either  vocally  or  instrumentally. 
It  is  almost  an  insult  to  true  artistry,  to  make  a  great  artist 
become  the  foil  of  Wynn's  wit,  but  dignity  descends  to 
comedy.  And  a  singer  permits  herself  to  be  interrupted  in 
the  middle  of  an  aria  while  Ed  soars  into  the  comic  ether 
with  lisping  ecstasy.  The  scheme  might  be  termed  a  species 
of  subdued  burlesque,  which  would  defeat  its  purpose  in 
inexpert  hands. 

The  standard  radio  style  is  to  alternate  band  and  comedy. 
Some  critics  claim  both  elements  do  not  really  belong  to- 
gether. "The  comedian,"  says  Alton  Cook,  "tries  his  best  to 
get  an  audience  into  a  high  spirited  whoopee  mood.  Then 
comes  the  band  leader  who  wants  to  play  a  ballad  and  change 
the  whole  spirit  of  the  program.  If  he  succeeds,  the  comedian 
has  difficulty  in  getting  audience  attention  for  his  second 

To  establish  and  hold  the  proper  mood,  the  band  should 

RADIO    COMEDIANS    ARE    SUCH    UNFUNNY    PEOPLE          225 

play  atmospheric  music.  Some  comedians  attempt  a  liaison 
between  the  comic  and  the  music  by  giving  cues  to  the 
band  leader.  "Play  Don!"  says  Jack  Benny  to  Don  Bestor, 
and  the  band  plays  on. 

The  Radio  Family 

To  create  the  feeling  of  ease,  smoothness,  and  naturalness, 
it  became  necessary  to  create  an  entire  radio  "family"  whose 
dissensions  made  them  stand  out  as  familiar  characters  with 
the  radio  audience. 

As  distinguished  from  the  variety  show,  the  unit  comedy 
program  devised  by  Conn  generally  follows  this  routine:  (i) 
The  comedian  exchanged  insults  with  the  announcer;  (2)  the 
various  stooges,  including  the  orchestra  leader,  insult  the 
comedian;  (3)  topical  material  treated  in  a  comic  light; 
(4)  a  sketch  with  high-pressure  comedy  effects. 

Relatives  indeed  come  in  mighty  handy  on  the  air.  They 
have  furnished  many  comedians  with  the  major  portion  of 
their  programs.  Each  week  brings  a  peep  into  the  private 
lives  and  intimacies  of  real  or  mythical  kinsmen.  Listeners 
react  as  if  they  knew  each  member  personally.  Bob  Burns 
built  almost  his  entire  routine  around  his  Arkansas  kin. 
Burns'  uncle  furnishes  him  with  his  best  wisecracks:  "My 
uncle  is  so  tough,  he  filled  an  enemy  so  full  of  lead  that  when 
he  sat  down  he  made  marks  like  a  lead  pencil."  As  to  his 
aunt:  "Aunt  Peachey  has  no  more  meat  on  her  than  a  vege- 
tarian's vest." 

Eddie  Cantor,  of  course,  always  mentions  Ida  and  his 
daughters.  Most  listeners  would  recognize  Gracie  Allen's 
"brother"  if  they  met  him  on  the  street,  and  Ed  Wynn  would 
be  at  a  loss  without  his  "uncle."  It  is  our  sympathy  with 
these  characters  that  is  the  secret  of  humor.  Their  trials  and 
habits  become  as  familiar  to  us  as  if  they  were  constantly 
at  our  side. 

226  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

The  radio  form  of  the  pseudo  feud  between  musicians 
and  comedians  was  first  introduced  by  Eddie  Cantor's  razz- 
ing of  RubinofL  Another  phase  of  the  feud  exists  between 
fellow  comedians  on  rival  programs,  as  when  Fred  Allen 
challenged  Jack  Benny  to  play  a  virtuoso  selection  on  the 

Feuds  come  and  go.  Some  are  real,  however.  Kate  Smith 
didn't  like  the  way  Eddie  Cantor  teased  her  about  her  avoir- 
dupois when  he  was  on  the  Chase  and  Sanborn  Hour.  Kate 
resented  his  continuous  harping  on  this  theme  as  question- 
able taste.  Nearly  all  the  feuds  are  based  upon  similar  cause. 
An  open  rupture  begins  when  rival  stars  steal  from  each 
other  some  professional  trick  or  style  or  program  method 
such  as  a  peculiar  voice  or  dialect. 

The  Feud  Reaches  Its  Climax 

(The  Jack  Benny  Show  moved  to  New  York.  Fred  Allen 
was  already  broadcasting  from  that  city.  The  following  Sun- 
day night,  during  the  Benny  broadcast,  there  is  a  loud 

Mary:  Come  in. 

All:  Why,  it's  Fred  Allen. 

Benny:  Well,  as  I  live  and  regret  there  are  no  locks  on 
studio  doors,  if  it  isn't  Boo  Allen.  Now  listen,  Allen,  what's 
the  idea  of  breaking  in  here  in  the  middle  of  my  singing? 

Allen:  Singing?  Well,  I  didn't  mind  when  you  scraped 
that  bow  over  my  suitcase  and  called  it  "The  Bee,"  but  when 
you  set  that  croup  to  music  and  call  it  singing  .  .  .  Benny, 
you've  gone  too  far. 

Benny:  Now,  look  here,  Allen,  I  don't  care  what  you  say 
about  my  violin-playing  on  your  own  program,  but  when 
you  come  up  here,  be  careful.  After  all,  I've  got  listeners. 

Allen:  Keep  your  family  out  of  this. 

Benny:  Well,  my  family  likes  my  singing  and  my  violin- 
playing  too. 

Allen:  Your  violin-playing!  Why,  I  just  heard  that  a  horse 

RADIO    COMEDIANS    ARE    SUCH    UNFUNNY    PEOPLE          227 

committed  suicide  when  he  found  your  violin  bow  was  made 
from  his  tail. 

Benny:  Hm.  Well,  listen  to  me,  you  Wednesday  night 
hawk,  another  crack  like  that  and  Town  Hall  will  be  look- 
ing for  a  new  janitor.  How  did  you  get  in  here  without  a 

Allen:  I  made  one  at  the  doorman  and  you're  next. 

Benny:  Oh  I  am,  eh? 

Allen:  Listen,  cowboy,  why  didn't  you  stay  out  in  Holly- 
wood where  you  didn't  belong? 

Benny:  Because  I  heard  you  were  coming  out  there  to 
make  a  picture,  that's  why. 

Allen:  Well,  I  saw  your  last  picture,  and  maybe  you  didn't 
start  bank  night,  but  you  certainly  kept  it  going. 

Benny:  Oh  yeah?  Well,  three  states  are  waiting  for  your 
picture  to  be  released.  They're  going  to  use  it  instead  of 
capital  punishment.  Wow!  Where  are  you  going  to  live  in 
Hollywood,  Mr.  Allen?  At  the  ostrich  farm? 

Allen:  I  may. 

Livingstone:  (Starts  to  laugh  loudly.) 

Benny:  What  are  you  laughing  at,  Mary? 

Livingstone:  He'll  show  those  birds  how  to  lay  eggs. 

Benny:  Mary,  that  was  marvelous.  I'm  going  to  kiss  you 
for  that. 

Livingstone:  Then  I  take  it  back. 

Benny:  Oh,  you  do! 

Allen:  She'd  rather  kiss  an  ostrich  and  so  would  I. 

Benny:  Well,  Allen,  that's  going  a  little  too  far.  When  you 
make  that  kind  of  remark  it  means  fight  where  I  came  from. 

Allen:  You  mean  your  blood  would  boil  if  you  had  any? 

Benny:  Yes,  and  I've  got  just  enough  to  resent  that.  If 
you'll  step  out  into  the  hallway  I'm  ready  to  settle  this  affair, 
man  to  man. 

Allen:  All  right,  I'll  knock  you  flatter  than  the  part  of  this 
program  I  wasn't  on. 

Livingstone:  Hold  on  there,  Allen,  who  touches  a  hair 
on  Jack's  gray  head  has  to  find  it  first. 

Benny:  Never  mind  that.  Come  on,  Allen,  let  us  away. 
(Muttering)  Hm,  I'm  sorry  now  I  sold  my  rowing  machine. 
(The  two  stamp  out.  There  is  long,  suspense-filled  silence. 

228  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

Then  we  hear  heavy  footsteps  approaching,  the  door  opens 
and  Jack  and  Fred  enter — laughing.) 

Benny:  Ha,  Ha,  Ha.  Gosh,  Freddie,  those  were  the  days, 
weren't  they? 

Allen:  Yes,  sir!  Remember  that  time  in  Toledo  when  you 
walked  in  the  magician's  dressing-room  and  stole  his  pigeons? 

Benny:  Do  I?  They  tasted  pretty  good,  didn't  they, 

Allen:  You  said  it,  Jack. 

Benny:  We  didn't  make  much  money  in  those  days, 
Freddie,  but  we  did  get  a  lot  of  laughs. 

Allen:  We  certainly  did  until  we  walked  on  the  stage. 
(They  both  laugh  again.) 

Livingstone:  Jack,  what  happened  to  the  fight? 

Benny:  What  fight?  Say,  Freddie,  remember  that  time  in 
South  Bend,  Indiana? 

Phil  Harris:  No  kidding,  fellows,  what  happened  to  that 

Benny:  Why,  Phil,  we  were  never  serious  about  that. 

Livingstone:  Then  how'd  you  get  that  black  eye? 

Benny:  Oh,  this?  Well,  I  was  just  writing  a  letter. 

Allen:  And  I  dotted  his  eye. 

Benny:  Now  wait  a  minute,  Freddie.  I  slapped  you  more 
than  you  did  me.  Look  at  your  wrists.  They're  all  red. 

Allen:  Well,  I  made  you  say  "Uncle"  when  I  pulled  your 

Benny:  Uncle  isn't  the  word,  but  let  it  go. 

Livingstone:  Well,  I'll  be  darned!  After  what  you  guys 
said  about  each  other. 

Allen:  Listen,  Jack's  the  whitest  guy  I  know. 

Don  Wilson:  But  you  said  he  was  anemic. 

Allen:  Listen!  Don't  let  anyone  tell  you  Jackie  Benny's 
anemic.  He  stays  white  on  purpose  just  so  everybody  else 
will  look  healthy.  Don't  you,  Jackie  boy? 

Benny:  I  sure  do,  Freddie. 

Phil  Harris:  But  you  said  he  had  so  little  hair  he  sprinkled 
popcorn  on  his  shoulders  for  false  dandruff.  You  even  said 
he  was  stingy. 

Allen:  Jack  Benny  stingy?  Why,  his  heart  is  so  big  you  can 
put  a  stethoscope  on  him  any  place  and  get  action. 

RADIO    COMEDIANS    ARE    SUCH    UNFUNNY    PEOPLE          2  20 

Don  Wilson:  Say,  Fred,  here's  a  package  you  dropped  on 
your  way  out  to  the  hall. 

Allen:  Oh  yes,  that's  a  box  of  candy  I  was  going  to  give 

Livingstone:  Candy!  Can  I  have  a  piece? 

Allen:  Sure,  but  take  the  square  ones,  Mary,  they're  not 

Benny:  Hm,  I  see.  By  the  way,  Freddie,  when  you  get 
home  if  that  box  of  flowers  I  sent  you  is  still  ticking,  just 
put  it  in  water. 

Allen:  I  will.  Thanks  for  the  tip. 

Livingstone:  Gee,  this  candy  is  swell.  What's  it  filled  with, 

Allen:  Ipana. 

Benny:  Oh  well,  she  was  going  to  brush  her  teeth  anyway. 

Allen:  For  that  I'm  going  to  brush  mine  with  Jell-O. 

Benny:  Why  don't  you  have  them  put  Ipana  out  in  six 
delicious  flavors? 

Allen:  That's  a  great  idea,  but  I  have  to  go  now. 

Benny:  O.K.,  Freddie,  thanks  for  your  kind  visit  and 

Allen:  What  apology? 

Benny:  Never  mind,  let's  not  start  that  again. 

Allen:  By  the  way,  Mr.  Harris. 

Phil  Harris:  Yes,  Fred? 

Allen:  You  lay  off  my  pal,  Jack  Benny.  That's  all.  Good- 
bye everybody. 

Benny:  So  long,  Freddie.  (Fred  goes.)  Play,  Harris.  And 
watch  your  step.  You  heard  what  Freddie  said! 

Phil  Harris:  Why,  you  sawed  off  little  punk!  I'll  take  you 
and  tear  you  limb  from  limb. 

Benny:  Oh,  Freddie — Freddie — Freddie — Freddie! 

Fitfully,  the  feud  continues.  Wednesdays  and  Sundays 
give  each  comedian  an  opportunity  to  fan  the  flames  higher. 
For  most  listeners,  though,  the  night  Fred  Allen  walked  into 
the  Benny  show  remains  just  about  their  best  broadcast. 

230  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

Touching  the  Heart  Strings 

Some  of  the  best  comedy  on  the  air  strikes  the  more  seri- 
ous note.  Many  comedians  endeavor  to  touch  the  heart 
strings  and  make  a  tear  flow  along  with  the  laugh.  This  fol- 
lows the  dictum  of  Aristotle,  that  it  is  the  business  of  com- 
edy to  lay  bare  the  vices  in  all  its  shapes,  so  that  cowardice, 
vanity,  thieving,  gluttony,  conceit  and  the  like  may  be 

The  sympathies  that  the  comedian  creates  are  sometimes 
indefinable.  The  appeal  is  built  up  by  a  character,  a  per- 
sonality who,  for  better  or  for  worse,  and  many  times  for 
worse,  all  the  world  loves.  The  most  popular  of  all  comic 
radio  characters  is  the  sap,  the  under-dog.  In  the  movies  he 
is  epitomized  by  Charlie  Chaplin  and  Harold  Lloyd.  On  the 
air  the  crowning  male  example  is  Ed  Wynn,  the  perfect 
fool;  the  female  version,  Gracie  in  Blunderland. 

It  is  the  aim  of  the  comedian  to  create  characters  that  are 
at  once  odd  and  lovable.  This  explains  the  willful  imbecility 
of  the  late  Joe  Penner,  the  lying  propensity  of  Jack  Pearl, 
the  comic  cantoring  of  Eddie  Cantor.  Their  queer  responses 
to  life,  we  may  thoroughly  disapprove,  but  always  contempt 
is  balanced  by  affection.  In  the  end  we  surrender  to  the 
laugh,  grateful  for  their  entertainment,  even  though  they 
leave  us  with  a  sense  of  frustration. 

Sentimentality  plays  a  large  part  in  a  comedian's  offering. 
Radio  insisted  that  Al  Jolson  stick  to  his  sentimentality.  For 
this  reason,  his  rise  in  radio  was  slow.  Eddie  Cantor  offers 
no  apology  for  indulging  in  a  forced  pathos  and  a  rudi- 
mentary philosophy.  With  a  woman's  intuition,  Nina  Wilcox 
Putnam,  the  novelist,  says  in  his  support: 

"I  think  that  Eddie  is  miles  ahead  of  any  other  star  on 
the  humorous  air.  You  see,  his  jokes  are  not  only  funny,  but 
they  are  sensible.  Behind  all  his  humor  is  a  genuine  philos- 


ophy.  You  not  only  laugh  at  what  he  says,  but  under  your 
breath  you  instinctively  comment,  'By  gosh,  that's  truel' ' 

An  overwrought  sentimentality  is  dangerous  to  the  average 
comedian.  Such  themes  as  mother  love,  heroism,  self-sacri- 
fice, sympathy  for  animals  and  the  down-trodden,  when  in- 
troduced to  comedy  must  be  handled  without  overdoing  the 
maudlin.  Cantor  espouses  a  hundred  causes, — camps  for  kids, 
scholarships  and  the  like.  Occasionally  he  employs  an  effec- 
tive slogan,  such  as  a  plea  for  careful  driving:  "Drive  slowly. 
We  love  our  children." 

In  many  teams  the  male  monopolized  the  snapper  line 
and  the  joke  exploded  around  the  woman.  Many  listeners 
resent  the  humiliation  of  the  woman  at  the  hands  of  a  man, 
even  in  comedy.  Burns,  as  the  partner-husband,  may  be  out- 
raged by  Gracie's  inanities,  but  he  is  always  tolerant  and 
patient.  He  is  the  pattern  of  the  smooth  lad  who  holds  the 
admiration  of  the  audience  of  women.  Because  of  this  ability 
to  create  universal  types,  George  Burns  and  Gracie  Allen 
enjoy  the  unique  distinction  of  having  the  act  translated 
into  French  every  week.  The  scripts  are  broadcast  there  by 
a  French  couple.  "Grace  et  Georges"  get  three  hundred 
dollars  a  week  in  royalty  for  that. 

Burns  employs  a  battery  of  from  three  to  four  writers 
who,  while  engaged  on  any  one  program,  never  see  each 
other.  The  next  task  is  to  select  the  choicest  morsels  from 
each  product.  The  gags  are  assembled  and  Burns  makes  sure 
that  every  line  of  repartee,  no  matter  how  familiar,  is  in 
complete  harmony  with  Gracie's  character.  She  never  says 
a  word  that  is  unbecoming  to  the  world's  greatest  nitwit.  She 
is  not  consciously  the  witty  lady  handing  out  smart  lines, 
or  thumbing  her  nose  at  men,  but  shines  as  a  lovable 

It  is  important  in  comedy  to  create  a  type.  Bob  Hope  uses 
as  a  stooge  a  dumb  girl,  always  Honey  Chile  on  the  radio. 


Women  find  her  amusing  because  she  makes  them  feel  so 
much  smarter  by  comparison. 

What  Gracie  Allen  says  is  peculiarly  absurd  and  we  know 
that  she  is  going  to  say  something  absurd.  We  never  really 
admire  her  traits  and,  in  fact,  may  actually  resent  them. 
But  our  opposition  is  broken  down  by  the  rush  of  the  de- 
lightfully ridiculous,  and  we  find  ourselves  laughing  willy- 
nilly.  Paul  Douglas,  the  announcer,  once  said  boastingly  over 
the  air:  "George  and  Gracie  have  taken  pains  to  prove  that 
some  people  can  live  without  brains."  Such  is  the  essence 
of  a  great  art,  and  it  is  no  wonder  that  Gracie  has  been 
voted  by  the  students  of  the  University  of  California  the 
most  intelligent  actress  in  America. 

Much  of  the  laughter  which  mankind  has  enjoyed  is  the 
joke  pointed  at  women  and  marriage.  Gracie  Allen's  House- 
wives' League  had  as  it  principal  plank:  "All  men  are  born 
free  and  equal,  but  wives  are  changing  that." 

Her  silly  blurbs  often  carry  the  sharpest  sting.  "Oh!"  she 
cries  out,  "I  always  say  if  a  man  wants  to  break  himself  of 
the  habit  of  forging  checks,  he  should  make  sure  when  he 
gets  up  in  the  morning  to  fill  his  fountain  pen  with  water." 

Shall  It  Be  the  Comic  Monologue? 

Apart  from  those  who  essay  dramatic  character  mono- 
logues, as  does  Miss  Cornelia  Otis  Skinner,  the  comedian 
who  stands  before  the  microphone  alone  has  a  difficult  time 
of  it  on  the  air.  There  is  scarcely  anyone  except  Will  Rogers 
who  has  achieved  distinction  working  alone.  It  is  too  much 
of  a  virtuoso  stunt  to  do  a  thirty-minute  program  alone 
Frank  Fay's  solo  attempt  in  the  role  of  a  worldly  gentleman 
proved  to  be  a  struggle  to  amuse,  in  spite  of  his  singing 
offered  as  relief  to  his  leisurely  comments. 

The  shining  examplar  of  the  monologue  today  is  Bob 
Burns  who  was  aired  into  national  prominence,  aided  by  his 

RADIO    COMEDIANS    ARE    SUCH    UNFUNNY    PEOPLE          233 

bazooka.  Not  only  did  he  achieve  personal  fame,  but  he 
helped  put  his  home  town  prominently  on  the  map.  The 
official  stationery  of  the  city  of  his  nativity  states  simply: 
"Tom  English,  Mayor  of  Bob  Burns'  Home  Town,  Van 
Buren,  Arkansas."  In  a  manner  that  suggested  Will  Rogers, 
Bob  Burns  clung  to  his  native  idiom,  weaving  his  yarns 
about  his  folk  in  Arkansas.  He  is  the  essence  of  colloquial- 
ism— his  easy-going  dry  and  resonant  drawl  captures  the  ear 
because  the  manner  in  unforced.  In  the  following  situation 
he  confides  to  Bing  Crosby  and  to  listeners  everywhere: 

"You  know,  Bing,  all  my  kinfolks  down  there  in  Van 
Buren  ain't  like  me.  I  talk  a  whole  lot — I  know  that,  but 
most  of  my  folks  are  very  quiet  and  peaceful.  I  know  one 
time  I  was  comin'  home  from  a  trip  and  standin'  in  the 
woods,  quite  a  way  from  the  house,  I  saw  my  uncle  standin' 
out  there  and  I  says,  'What  are  ya  doin'?' 

And  he  says:  "Nothin'." 

And  I  says:  "Are  ya  huntin'?" 

And  he  says:  "No." 

And  I  says:  "It's  gittin'  dark — it's  time  to  git  in  the 

And  he  says:  "Yes." 

/  says:  "Come  on  and  go  in  with  me." 

And  he  says:  "No." 

And  so  I  says:  "Well,  dinner'll  be  ready  pretty  soon — ain't 
ya  hungry?" 

And  he  said:  "Yes." 

"And  so  I  started  on  towards  the  house  and  went  about  half 
a  mile  and  I  went  back  and  I  says:  "Come  on  and  go  home 
with  me!" 

And  he  says:  "No." 

And  I  says:  "Why?" 

And  he  said:  "I  can't,"  he  says.  "I'm  standin'  in  a  bear 

The  radio  monologuist  remains  in  peculiar  need  of  a 
studio  audience.  Bob  Hope,  in  an  interview  in  the  New  York 

234  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

Sun,  claims  that  without  a  studio  audience  the  monologuist 
is  helpless  to  react  to  mood  or  to  gauge  studio  laughs.  "My 
solo  bits  are  patterned  exactly  after  my  stage  style,"  he  says. 
"True  to  vaudeville  formula,  I  attempt  to  make  my  topics 
breezy  and  seasonal." 

The  fault  of  the  monologuist  generally  lies  in  his  ma- 
terial. Writing  a  program  of  jokes  that  are  sure-fire  and  un- 
familiar is  a  rarity.  The  second  danger  lies  in  a  false  vocal 
approach.  The  voice  betokens  too  great  an  effort  at  being 
whimsical  and  the  comedian's  chuckles  betray  him  as  too 
obviously  self-gratified.  Even  well-dressed  jokes  can  not  save 

The  Phenomenon  of  Charlie  McCarthy 

Charlie  McCarthy  was  born  into  radio  on  December  17, 
1930.  On  that  date  Rudy  Vallee  introduced  Edgar  Bergen, 
sitting  before  the  microphone  with  his  dummy  on  his  knee. 
This  was  an  experiment  and  an  amusing  novelty,  pre- 
sumed to  be  good  only  for  a  few  radio  programs.  Ventrilo- 
quism before  this  time  was  a  program  feature  classified  with 
jugglers  and  acrobats  and  confined  to  the  theater,  Chau- 
tauqua  platform  and  vaudeville. 

Within  the  space  of  three  months  the  ventriloquist's 
dummy  was  ironically  proclaimed  by  Sinclair  Lewis,  in  a 
lecture  before  the  Brooklyn  Academy  of  Arts  and  Sciences, 
as  the  head  of  our  "national  heroes."  Northwestern  Uni- 
versity recently  conferred  upon  him  the  degree  of  "Master 
of  Innuendo  and  the  Snappy  Comeback."  Edgar  Bergen 
was  similarly  honored  by  Dean  Dennis. 

What  explains  the  phenomenon  of  Charlie  McCarthy? 
Here  is  a  wooden  creature,  jockied  on  the  knee  of  his  master, 
and  yet  never  quite  under  control.  The  fellow  winks  under 
his  monocle,  opens  his  hinged  mouth  and  utters  more  im- 
pertinences than  any  other  actor  would  dare  throw  off  his 
chest.  No  one  would  suspect  him  of  an  evil  thought,  yet  his 


utterances  have  a  devilish  tinge.  He  says  what  he  thinks 
and  emerges  triumphantly  from  situations  which  the  average 
listener  would  not  know  how  to  combat.  He  can  take  a 
whack  at  the  foibles  of  men  and  women,  puncture  their 
pomposities,  jeer  at  their  false  pride,  and  set  humanity  in 
its  proper  place.  It  is  because  Charlie  is  beholden  to  no  man 
that  he  becomes  the  lovable  hero.  When  Adolph  Menjou 
is  extolled  as  the  most  perfectly  dressed  man  in  the  world, 
Charlie  says  with  a  quirk:  "His  pants  are  pressed — so  what?" 

Psychologists  might  explain  the  vogue  of  Charlie  by  prov- 
ing how,  through  mass  stimuli,  the  multitudes  come  to  love 
symbols  rather  than  reason  and  reality.  Myth  and  fact  be- 
come merged  into  symbols.  Charlie  McCarthy  typifies  the 
braggart;  his  throaty,  haunting  chuckle  voices  the  mockery 
of  a  spiritual  soul  that  is  all  fed  up  with  the  frailties  of 
human  nature.  He  is  a  blustering  blockhead  with  an  extraor- 
dinary brain  under  his  wooden  skull.  His  brassiness  is  a 
compound  of  wisdom  and  lampoon.  His  unusual  and  un- 
expected candor  awakens  the  listener's  surprise  and  admira- 
tion. It  is  the  militancy  of  Charlie  McCarthy  which  made 
Ned  Sparks  turn  on  him  furiously,  calling  him  "a  slippery 
elm  lothario,  a  hickory  version  of  Pollyanna  and  a  wood 

The  distinguished  psychologist,  Dr.  A.  A.  Brill,  who  sub- 
jected Charlie  to  careful  analysis,  finds  a  Freudian  complex 
in  the  reaction  of  mass  listeners.  Says  Dr.  Brill,  "Behind  it 
all  is  Mr.  Bergen,  the  ventriloquist,  the  gifted  wag  who 
uses  Charlie  as  a  facade  to  express  contempt,  aggression, 
and  sexual  allusion  in  a  witty  way.  The  radio  audiences, 
who  are  there  because  they  are  sadly  in  need  of  such  outlets, 
are  put  back  by  Charlie  McCarthy  into  that  early  state  of 
childhood  when  they,  too,  were  permitted  to  think  and  talk 
as  they  pleased,  regardless  of  inhibitions  exerted  by  parents 
and  society." 

The  appeal  of  Charlie  is  universal.  His  wisecracks  have 

236  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

been  food  for  optimists  and  pessimists.  He  is  regarded  as  the 
enfant  terrible  whose  naive  chatter  betrays  the  closest  family 
secrets.  Some  wag  said,  "Charlie  McCarthy  has  been  getting 
laughs  since  he  was  knee-high."  In  spite  of  the  fact  that  the 
radio  audience  knows  that  Charlie  is  only  a  dummy,  speak- 
ing with  the  voice  of  the  ventriloquist,  listeners  react  as  if 
Charlie  were  a  human  entity.  Hearing  is  believing. 

The  illusion  is  created  through  ventriloquism.  From  time 
immemorial  the  ventriloquist  has  excited  admiration.  The 
ancient  Chinese  had  talking  dummies  which  spoke  only  at 
the  insistence  of  priests.  The  priests  held  the  dummies 
against  their  stomachs  and  the  dummies  would  answer  ques- 
tions in  the  voice  of  ventriloquism.  The  trick  of  ventrilo- 
quism is  not  easy.  Normal  speech  is  changed  by  compressing 
the  glottis  so  that  sounds  seem  to  emerge  from  the  lips  of 
the  dummy.  The  successful  ventriloquist  must  make  his 
dummy's  voice  quite  differentiated  from  his  own.  Bergen 
manages  a  varied  range  for  Charlie.  An  editorial  in  the  New 
York  Times  thus  describes  the  emotional  touches  that  Ber- 
gen puts  in  the  voice  of  his  dummy: 

"Basically  it  is  arid.  Although  Charlie  is  apparently  still 
in  his  teens,  his  little  voice  is  aweary  of  the  world.  It  has  the 
infernal  fatigued  assurance  of  a  lad  who  has  been  too  much 
in  the  company  of  his  elders;  it  is  suave,  condescending  and 
impertinently  familiar.  Charlie  has  a  bland  tone  for  throw- 
ing an  adversary  off  the  track.  When  he  feels  that  he  is 
stumbling  into  an  awkward  situation  his  voice  can  make  a 
disarming  plea  for  sympathy;  it  drops  away  into  a  choking 
tone  of  self-pity,  impossible  to  believe  or  to  resist.  When 
he  is  in  a  wooing  mood  beyond  his  years,  his  voice  fairly 
coos  with  insincere  rapture." 

Much  of  the  success  of  Edgar  Bergen  is  due  to  his  ability 
to  write  a  great  part  of  the  script  himself.  No  comedian  has 
ever  been  able  to  stay  in  the  top  ranks  of  radio  for  more 
than  a  season  or  two  without  the  aid  of  a  script  writer. 

RADIO    COMEDIANS    ARE    SUCH    UNFUNNY    PEOPLE          237 

Bergen  employs  a  writing  staff,  but  he  uses  shrewd  judgment 
in  revising  the  work  submitted. 

Here  is  a  typical  quip  inserted  by  Edgar  Bergen: 
"My   father   was   a   big  stick   out   in    Michigan,"    boasts 
Charlie.  "  'Whitey  Pine,'  they  call  him."  To  which  Bergen 
counters:   "From  the  timbre  of  your  voice,  people  would 
know  you  came  from  the  woods." 

Charlie's  creator  says:  "Many  ventriloquists  have  made 
the  mistake  of  making  the  dummy  first  and  then  trying  to 
fit  the  voice  to  it.  Their  acts  flop  because  the  words  that  are 
put  in  their  mouths  do  no  seem  to  fit  them."  The  image  of 
Charlie  seems  to  flash  on  the  retina  of  the  listener  the  mo- 
ment he  opens  his  mouth.  Listeners  have  already  been  made 
familiar  with  his  insolent  face  on  the  screen  and  they  have 
caught  sight  of  him  in  the  drug  store  window.  Over  the  air 
that  impertinent  face  must  bespeak  itself  in  a  manner  re- 
flected in  his  features. 

Kidding  the  Sponsor 

In  the  search  for  new  comedy  forms,  someone  discovered 
that  the  commercial  plug  could  be  made  a  subject  of  hilarity. 
This  new  device,  known  as  "kidding  the  sponsor,"  was  not 
without  its  merit.  Most  sponsors  regarded  their  dignity 
at  stake  if  comedians  twisted  jokes  to  fit  their  products. 

Ben  Bernie  is  said  to  have  started  this  vogue  of  comic 
camouflaging.  Sometime  in  1924,  he  persuaded  his  sponsors, 
the  Pabst  Brewers,  to  permit  him  to  indulge  in  a  mild  play 
of  words:  "The  old  Alma  Malta,  preferred  by  the  malti- 
tudes.  Blue  Ribbon  Malta  is  the  mosta  of  the  besta." 

The  language  of  the  comic  soon  became  more  embold- 
ened. In  1931,  Ray  Perkins  began  to  employ  understate- 
ment to  create  the  laugh  and  the  sale  for  Jergen's  lotion. 
"It  is  of  no  use  whatsoever  in  improving  poker  hands." 
"It  will  not  remove  wrinkles  from  the  inside  straight."  "You 

238  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

gentlemen  who  have  trouble  with  your  golf  remember  that 
Jergen's  makes  it  easier  to  get  out  of  the  rough." 

Eddie  Cantor  was  given  leeway  with  Pebecco.  He  tells  of 
his  loyal  cow:  "I've  taught  her  to  brush  her  teeth  twice  a 
day,  and  now  she  gives  dental  cream." 

Even  Pepsodent  permitted  this  by-play:  Amos:  "Did  yo' 
really  love  Susie?"  Andy:  "Well,  prepsodent  and  prepsodid." 

The  kidding  formula  received  fullest  development  at  the 
hands  of  Jack  Benny.  Benny  discovered  that  he  could  fore- 
stall the  irritation  of  the  audience  by  getting  in  a  rage  with 
the  announcer:  "I  can  go  ahead  now.  How  Wilson  made 
that  fit  in,  I  don't  know." 

Ed  Wynn's  notorious  heckling  of  Graham  McNamee  on 
his  first  Texaco  program  was  an  advance  on  the  conventional 
plug.  "Always,  Texaco,  I'll  stick  to  my  horse,  Graham.  Per- 
sonally I  hate  automobiles.  If  my  horse  runs  over  a  nail  in 
the  road,  I  don't  have  to  stop  and  pump  up  its  leg."  And 
then  another  protest.  "Don't  talk  to  me  about  gas,  Graham. 
If  a  doctor  ever  operated  on  you  for  appendicitis,  he'd  find 
himself  opening  a  gas  station." 

The  art  of  "kidding"  the  sponsor  requires  a  masterful 
use  of  voice  to  soften  the  comic  thrust.  This  involves  subtle 
nuance  instantly  recognized  as  spoofing.  Today  the  form  of 
"kidding"  has  gone  beyond  mere  gags.  The  product  is  also 
subject  to  humorous  treatment  in  doggerel  verse,  smart  dia- 
logue covering  a  unique  situation,  and  in  comic  song. 

Radio's  Only  Sophisticated  Comic — Fred  Allen 

A  natural  evolution  of  the  gag  toward  a  more  coherent 
form  leans  toward  burlesque.  Here  the  art  consists  of  treat- 
ing a  serious  subject  ridiculously  or  in  making  a  trifling 
affair  appear  quite  solemn. 

Fred  Allen  is  perhaps  the  best  exponent  of  this  method. 
He  is  the  philosopher-comic  and  satisfies  the  best  definition 

RADIO    COMEDIANS    ARE    SUCH    UNFUNNY    PEOPLE         2  $9 

of  humor  by  "thinking  in  fun  and  feeling  in  earnest."  Bar- 
ing the  taboos  of  broadcasting,  Allen  spares  nothing  in  the 
contemporary  scene.  The  method  of  making  travesty  of 
events  of  the  day  is  as  old  as  civilization.  There  was  a  time 
when  Egypt  built  jokes  about  the  building  of  the  Pyramids 
and  Aristophanes  of  Athens  held  Corinth  up  to  ridicule. 

Fred  Allen's  comedy  springs  from  burlesque  of  things  he 
reads  about  in  the  newspapers.  Men  and  women,  he  claims, 
are  too  busy  with  their  own  problems  to  dig  up  their  laughs 
as  they  skim  through  the  papers.  "That's  my  job,"  says 

"To  begin  with,"  he  once  told  Louis  Reid,  "I  read  nine 
papers  a  day.  I  look  for  items  that'll  lend  themselves  to 
kidding.  I  clip  such  items  as  I  want.  By  the  end  of  the  week 
I  may  have  fifty  items  collected.  I  go  through  them  and 
figure  out  what  I  can't  use  because  of  the  broadcaster's  'No.' 
I  am  not  allowed  to  poke  fun  at  the  Townsend  Plan  and  a 
lot  of  other  censorship  things.  By  the  time  I've  sifted  through 
the  batch  of  fifty,  I'm  lucky  if  I  have  four  I  can  josh!" 

He  continues,  "Oh,  yes.  I  have  a  joke  book  collection.  I 
own  some  four  thousand  joke  books,  but  I  haven't  used  a 
joke  book  for  years.  It's  too  much  trouble  to  worry  about 
whether  the  gags  were  used  recently  by  another  comedian, 
so  I  forget  about  them.  I  just  go  along  and  get  jokes  and 
situations  that  I  think  original." 

Perhaps  the  method  is  best  illustrated  by  an  example  he 
himself  gives  in  Radio  Guide: 

"I  ran  across  an  item  to  the  effect  that  the  Hartford,  Con- 
necticut, Motor  Vehicle  Department  had  started  a  novel 
safety  campaign. 

"Cops  stop  motorists  and,  instead  of  arresting  them,  dis- 
cuss the  safety  campaign.  It's  a  push-over  for  me.  I  open  my 
scene  with  an  officer  yelling  the  usual  Tull  over  to  the  curb.' 
Instead  of  bawling  the  driver  out,  he's  as  nice  as  pie — com- 
pliments him  on  'Nice  pulling  over,  brother,'  exchanges 

240  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

reminiscences  of  Woonsocket,  Rhode  Island,  and  ends  up 
offering  to  race  the  motorist  to  Stamford.  That  is  as  sure- 
fire as  comedy  can  be.  It  has  universality.  Everybody  knows 
cops  are  tough.  Everybody  has  been  bawled  out  for  speed- 
ing. There's  a  sure-fire  laugh  in  the  idea  of  the  cop  racing 
the  motorist.  Yet,  the  whole  thing  came  right  out  of  the 
New  York  Times.  All  I  did  was  put  a  twist  on  it  to  make  it 

It  all  appears  so  easy.  Fred  Allen  had  already  written 
vaudeville  sketches  for  about  a  dozen  years  before  he  entered 
radio.  A  former  vaudeville  juggler,  he  was  practically  un- 
known to  most  of  his  listeners  when  he  made  his  radio  debut 

in   1Q33- 

Allen  is,  first  of  all,  the  analyst.  He  reverses  the  method 
of  creating  the  situation  first  and  then  fitting  jokes  to  the 
situation.  "Some  of  the  boys  who  write  comedy  material  get 
four  or  five  gags  and  then  try  to  think  up  a  situation  that 
they'll  fit  into.  That's  what  I  call  the  hard  way.  I  gave  it 
up  long  ago."  And  so,  without  benefit  of  joke  books,  Fred 
Allen  looks  on  the  contemporary  scene  and  exposes  the 
foibles  of  mankind  and  turns  the  laugh  of  mankind  on  itself. 

Allen,  who  once  billed  himself  as  "The  World's  Worst 
Juggler,"  might  be  termed  "Radio's  Only  Sophisticated 
Comic."  He  makes  men  laugh  more  heartily  in  order  to 
make  them  live  more  happily.  His  genius  lies  in  topsy-turvy 
thinking.  He  satisfies  the  test  of  universality  in  a  comic 
ability  to  provoke  the  laugh  of  the  intelligentsia  and  the 
hoi  polloi. 

Will  Rogers,  Master  Satirist 

No  one  has  appeared  to  take  the  place  of  Will  Rogers, 
master  satirist  and  disrupter  of  the  political  foibles  of  the 
nation.  He  was  unique  in  that  he  employed  the  art  of  satire 
unmercifully  and  uncensored.  Satire  is  entirely  a  weapon  of 
defense  and  originally  was  used  in  personal  quarrels. 

RADIO    COMEDIANS    ARE    SUCH    UNFUNNY    PEOPLE          241 

Will  Rogers  unassumingly  took  the  role  of  the  defender 
of  a  Public  against  those  who,  in  some  way,  stood  for  anti- 
social policies.  Instead  of  using  political  harangue  and  vitup- 
eration against  offenders  like  Andrew  Mellon,  he  let  loose 
shafts  of  satire.  He  aimed  at  the  very  heart  of  the  shams 
and  rascality  of  the  day,  while  we  laughed  with  him. 

That  arch  satirist  himself,  Gilbert  K.  Chesterton,  held  that 
to  preserve  the  comic  spirit  "one  must  have  a  certain  respect 
for  his  enemies."  Rogers  was  a  master  of  this  reserve.  He 
did  not  assume  that  those  whom  he  attacked  were  despicable 
characters.  He  knew  that  an  unqualified  attempt  to  degrade 
does  not  result  in  laughter. 

It  was  Will  Rogers  who  succeeded  in  establishing  what 
Theodore  Dreiser  calls  a  "democracy  of  the  funny  bone." 
The  novelist  would  have  us  believe  that  this  part  of  the 
American  anatomy  is  constantly  exposed,  always  at  elbows 
waiting  to  be  tickled  or  rapped. 

"Where  else  in  the  world,"  says  Dreiser,  "can  one  get  on 
equal  terms  immediately  and  almost  magically  with  whom- 
soever else  simply  by  appealing  to  that  underlying  suscepti- 
bility to  laughter?  The  wisecrack  is  our  national  form  of 
introduction.  It  does  not  mean  that  all  inequalities  are 
abolished  or  that  you  are  going  to  be  friends  for  life,  but 
that  in  all  forms  of  social  difference  are  seen  to  be  the  ulti- 
mate uncertainties  that  they  really  are." 

Consider  this  Rogers'  gem:  "Americans  are  not  worrying 
about  the  League  of  Nations.  What  they  want  is  somewhere 
to  park  their  cars."  Or,  the  way  he  twitched  the  politicians' 
noses:  "Well,  folks,  as  I  was  saying,  I  ain't  never  been  elected 
much  'cept  Mayor  of  Beverly  Hills.  Politicians  amuse  more 
people  than  they  interest.  And — uh — I  guess  this  is  not  an 
election  of  parties  or  policies.  It's  an  election  where  both 
sides  need  the  work.  I  think  if  you  would  split  the  salaries 
between  every  two  candidates  runnin',  they  would  call  off 
the  election." 

242  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

And  this  broadcast  appraisal  of  the  English  and  Americans 
on  the  occasion  of  the  Silver  Jubilee  of  the  King  and  Queen 
on  May  6,  1935:  "We  both  have  manners  and  customs  that 
drive  each  other  pretty  near  crazy,  and  an  American  with  a 
mouthful  of  chewing  gum  can  get  on  your  nerves  almost  as 
much  as  an  Englishman,  with  only  one  eye  full  of  monocle 
can  get  on  ours.  But,  after  all,  neither  commodity  contrib- 
uted to  the  success  the  nations  have  made. 

"We  will  never  have  trouble  with  each  other,  England, 
you  or  us.  We  both  have  humor.  If  we  started  to  fight,  we 
would  have  to  stop  in  the  middle  and  start  laughing  at  each 
other.  I  don't  know — you  are  naturally  funny  to  us  and  we 
are  like  a  mickey  mouse  cartoon  to  you." 

The  first  radio  talks  of  Will  Rogers  were  not  too  success- 
ful. All  his  life  he  had  been  accustomed  to  swinging  his 
rope,  wandering  about  the  stage,  and  carrying  on  a  running 
chatter.  He  was  able  to  gauge  his  place  according  to  the 
response  of  the  audience  while  he  chewed  gum  and  in- 
dulged his  peculiar  mannerisms.  His  early  manner  showed 
that  he  did  not  quite  realize  whether  he  was  talking  to  a 
few  invited  studio  guests  or  to  the  "great  unseen"  audience. 
Soon  he  became  fully  possessed  before  the  mike  and  "learned 
to  stay  put."  His  peculiar  monologue  idiom  fell  refreshingly 
on  ears  accustomed  to  the  twaddle  of  comedian  and  stooge. 

What  he  had  to  say  he  said  in  his  "patois"  He  sounded 
the  true  cowboy  from  Claremore,  Indian  Territory.  Com- 
plaints poured  in  from  college  professors  who  protested 
that  if  Rogers  was  going  to  comment  on  the  affairs  of  the 
country,  he  ought  to  speak  good  English."  He  took  liberties 
with  the  rules  of  syntax,  and  was  ready  to  justify  himself. 
"Syntax!  What's  that?  Sounds  like  bad  news."  When  he  found 
out  it  meant  grammar,  he  laughed  and  replied:  "Didn't 
know  they  were  buying  grammar  now.  I'm  just  so  dumb  I 
had  a  notion  it  was  thoughts  and  ideas." 

The  secret  of  Will  Rogers'  appeal  lay  in  his  easy  intimacy 

RADIO    COMEDIANS    ARE    SUCH    UNFUNNY    PEOPLE          243 

with  his  audience.  To  achieve  this  personal  and  direct  ap- 
proach, one  must  appear  wholly  extemporaneous.  On  rare 
occasions  Rogers  read  from  a  script.  He  employed  no  ghost 
writer,  no  gag  specialist.  He  considered  the  questions  of  the 
day  and  made  a  trademark  of  the  confession,  "All  I  know 
is  what  I  read  in  the  papers."  His  method  was  to  fill  himself 
full  of  a  subject — let  us  say  Russia.  A  week  before  his  broad- 
cast he  would  be  constantly  talking — talking  Russia  to  his 
friends  or  in  private  rehearsal  with  himself,  always  ready  to 
apply  a  satiric  touch. 

He  would  think  out  a  line  or  a  joke  and  then  spring  it  in 
the  right  place  as  if  it  just  came  from  the  forehead  of  the 
Jove  of  Satire.  When  the  time  came  to  broadcast,  Rogers 
had  already  built  up  by  conversation  those  sharp-edged  and 
taunting  sayings  which  he  delivered  with  spontaneity. 

His  spirit  was  kind  yet  stern.  He  mixed  humor  with  a 
pungent  philosophy.  He  belonged  to  the  crowd  because  he 
spoke  their  language  and  could  interpret  the  popular  mood. 
By  the  irony  of  fate,  Rogers  met  tragic  death  by  crashing 
to  earth  in  Wiley  Post's  plane.  And  there  was  lost  to  radio 
the  man  whom  Homer  Croy  called  "Radio's  Best  One-Man 

How  to  Become  a  Radio  Humor  Writer 

Radio  is  determined  to  keep  us  amused.  The  writer  of 
radio  comedy  has  the  world  before  him,  and  begins  with  the 
thesis  that  everything  can  be  made  laughable,  ludicrous, 

Language  has  specialized  use  for  the  humor  writer.  Gram- 
mar need  not  deter  him.  He  has  but  to  indulge  in  funny 
images  and  use  words  to  create  ludicrous  pictures  in  the 
mind.  He  can  employ  his  fancy  in  puns  and  phrases,  in 
strange  twists  of  meaning,  of  affinity  of  sound,  in  smart 
questions  and  sly  quips,  in  clever  repartee,  tart  irony,  laugh- 
ter-provoking hyperbole,  intelligent  nonsense,  distorted 

244  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

speech,  and  the  representation  of  persons,  things,  and  events 
in  their  contradictions  to  fact  and  truth. 

For  the  writer  in  training  we  shall  set  down  here  only  a 
few  guiding  principles  and  methods  in  illustration. 

1.  Above  all,  exercise  an  original  turn  of  mind.  Contrive 
to  turn  things  topsy  turvy,  see  people  reflected  in  concave 
and  convex  mirrors,  and  garner  the  laugh  from  the  most 
sober  aspect  of  things.  Look  under  the  surface  of  things 
and  be  ready  to  uncover  hypocrisies  and  shams  of  everyday 
life.  All  this  sounds  easy.  But  as  a  second  thought,  you  must 
reduce  the  laugh  to  the  simplest  terms.  It  is  the  average 
listener  who  must  be  amused,  so  your  comic  stuff  must  not 
only  be  palatable,  but  swallowed  entirely. 

2.  Get  a  collection  of  gags,  fresh  ones  if  possible.  This 
may  take  many  years  of  grinding  effort  and  a  perusal  of 
thousands   of  jokes   from   anthologies   and    magazines.    Be 
warned  that  so  prolific  has  become  the  flood  of  bad  radio 
comedy  that  nowadays  when  a  youngster  begins  to  save  old 
humor  magaznies,  one  suspects  he  plans  on  opening  a  dental 
office  or  becoming  a  comic. 

3.  Provide   yourself  with    the   published   anthologies   of 
jokes.  Good  sized  collections  are  Five  Thousand  World's 
Best  Jokes,  edited  by   L.   Copeland,   (Blue  Ribbon),   The 
World's   Best   Humorous   Anecdotes,    (Harpers),   and   The 
Cream  of  the  Jesters,  (Boni).  Your  study  of  the  history  of 
humor  can  cover  an  enormous  bibliography,  but  Constance 
Rourke's  invaluable  American  Humor  and  Eastman's  En- 
joyment of  Laughter  belong  first  on  your  reading  list.  Your 
mind  may  be  a  storehouse  of  ancient  gags,  but  the  trick  is  to 
bedeck  them  anew.  Beware  the  charge  of  plagiarism. 

Groucho  and  Chico  Marx  were  convicted  in  a  Los  An- 
geles Federal  Court  of  plagiarizing  a  copyright  skit  entitled 
"The  Hollywood  Adventures  of  Mr.  Dibble  and  Mr. 
Dabble,"  written  by  Garrett  and  Carroll  Graham.  On  ap- 
peal to  the  Circuit  Court,  Judge  William  Handy  upheld  the 

RADIO    COMEDIANS    ARE    SUCH    UNFUNNY    PEOPLE          245 

decision  on  the  ground  that  the  Marx  Brothers  had  read 
the  script  before  they  broadcast  it  in  September  1936,  and 
so  could  not  have  forgotten  about  it. 

4.  Try  to  turn  an  epigram  at  ease.  You  may  not  reach  the 
skill  of  Augustine  Birrell  whose  "barrelling"  included  such 
a  classic  as:  "The  House  of  Lords  is  a  group  representing 
nobody  but  themselves  and  enjoying  the  full  confidence  of 
their  constituents." 

5.  Study  historic  witticisms   for   salty   phrase.   Make   ap- 
plicable such  a  one,  quoted  by  John  Gunther  in  Inside  Eu- 
rope: "Once  Poincare  remarked  to  a  group  of  friends,  'I 
smell   war/    Leon    Blum   said  simply,    'Let   him    disinfect 

6.  Try  your  hand  at  pungent,  witty,  pithy  and  lively  say- 
ings.  Fred  Allen   dusted  off  a  quip   from   "Jumbo":    "An 
elephant  never  forgets,  but  what  has  he  got  to  remember?" 
Analyze  this  witticism.  He  is  a  self-made  man  and  proud  of 
his  creator.  Or  the  one  which  Edward  Everett  Horton  let 
loose  on  a  program:    "A  bachelor  is  a  fellow  who  never 
makes  the  same  mistake  once." 

Walter  Winchell  calls  those  who  create  the  informal  com- 
edy stuff  for  Benny  and  the  rest  "insult  writers."  To  qualify 
for  this  title,  you  must  let  humor  flow  from  the  taunts  your 
characters  hurl  at  each  other.  Radio  comedy  does  not  en- 
visage the  old  custard  pie  throwing  days,  or  squirting  grape- 
fruit into  a  lady's  face  in  the  manner  of  Cagney,  but  it  per- 
mits a  merciless  exchange  of  savage  and  insane  patter. 

7.  Give  attention  to  the  derided  pun,  so  that  you  can 
qualify  as  a  "pun-gent"  writer.  It  may  be  low-type  humor, 
but  the  radio  audience  thrives  on  puns.  Mort  Lewis,  with 
some  apology  for  being  its  author,  quotes  a  pun  he  created 
for  a  Maxwell  House  Program:  January:  (Restaurant  cus- 
tomer): Does  you  make  good  coffee?  Molasses:  Good  coffee! 
Boy,  I  make  swell  (Maxwell)  coffee. 

8.  You  should  welcome  the  genesis  of  new  words  in  the 

246  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

manner  of  Walter  Winchell.  Slang  may  be  the  epitome  of 
humor.  He  strikes  out  with  this  one  from  his  "Things  I 
Didn't  Know  'Till  Now"  Department:  "Disraeli  wore  cor- 
sets. Of  course,  it's  true." 

"The  battle  of  depression  has  been  won,"  says  one  speaker. 
"Good!"  replies  Fred  Allen.  "Now  the  employers  can  cease 

9.  Exaggeration  has  its  values.  When  W.  C.  Fields  moans 
that  "wine  flowed  like  glue,"  we  catch  an  immediate  pic- 
ture. And  so,  too,  we  know  the  predicament  of  Bob  Hope 
who  complained:  "My  fan  mail  has  been  so  heavy  these  past 
few  weeks,  I've  had  to  get  another  cigar  box." 

10.  Try  your  hand  at  comedy  playlets.  This  form  requires 
the  highest  degree  of  compression.  Fred  Allen  follows  cer- 
tain definite  principles  in  creating  the  action  for  the  Mighty 
Allen  Art  Players.  "What  I  do  in  these  playlets,"  he  says,  "is 
to  present  a  boiled-down  version  of  what  might  have  been  a 
real  play,  and  then  make  it  funny.  It  takes  plotting,  but  in 
the  end  you  have  two  points  of  interest,  the  story  and  the 

Women  writers  seem  to  have  neglected  the  field  of  radio 
comedy.  There  is  nothing  to  prevent  them  from  providing 
the  comic  with  the  nourishing  gags.  Mabel  Anderson  is  one 
of  the  few  women  writers  to  venture  into  radio  comedy. 
She  ascribes  the  lack  of  comic  creativeness  on  the  part  of 
women  to  an  emotionality  that  is  less  stable  than  that  of 
men.  Submit  this  jest  of  Miss  Anderson's  to  the  laugh  test: 

M.C.:  Hello,  Mabel,  what's  that  big  book  you're  carrying? 
Mabel:  Oh,  this?  It's  a  book  of  my  family  pictures. 
M.C.:  Family  pictures?  They  call  them  family  albums. 
Mabel:  That's  my  family  all  right.  All  bums! 
And  another  of  Miss  Anderson's: 
Baker:  I  thought  your  father  was  rich. 
Mabel:  Say,  my  father  has  so  many  gold   teeth  in  his 
mouth  he  has  to  sleep  with  his  head  in  a  safe! 

RADIO    COMEDIANS    ARE    SUCH    UNFUNNY    PEOPLE          247 

11.  Collaborate, — if  you  can  find  a  comedy  partner. 
Writers  of  comedy  generally  work  in  collaboration  with  the 
comedian.  Jack  Benny  uses  the  conference-collaboration 
method.  Mary  Livingstone  and  his  writers  gather  around 
him,  and  together  they  decide  on  a  "situation"  that  has 
humorous  possibilities.  If  Christmas  or  Mother's  Day  is  not 
far  off,  they  may  decide  on  a  theme  to  fit  the  holiday.  This 
is  what  is  called  making  the  program  "timely."  Now  comes 
the  test  of  the  writers'  imaginations.  The  situation  must  be 
milked  for  its  laughs. 

The  writer  may  delve  into  his  file  for  appropriate  jokes, 
but  without  an  inventive  turn  of  mind  he  may  turn  out  the 
average  pattern  of  drivel.  Turn  loose  your  ingenuity  in 
adapting  jokes  to  new  situations.  For  new  and  brilliant 
flashes  of  wit,  trust  to  your  fancy  which  is  the  highest  form 
of  imagination.  The  "idea"  behind  your  sketch  serves  as 
the  main  stem  from  which  floriate  your  gags,  witticisms, 
puns  and  comedy  thrusts.  How  easy  to  adapt  this  one  of 
Byron  Spaun  to  a  restaurant  episode:  "I  was  in  a  restaurant 
yesterday,  one  of  those  with  a  sign  'Not  Responsible  for 
Articles  Stolen,'  "  said  Byron,  thumbing  his  suspenders.  "I 
watched  my  hat,  and  someone  stole  my  soup." 

It  is  such  casual  talk  that  made  the  comedy  script  of  the 
"The  Circle."  Every  Tuesday  Madeline  Carroll,  Groucho 
Marx,  Lawrence  Tibbett,  Basil  Rathbone  and  Robert  Dolan 
met  "at  home,"  and  started  the  ball  of  conversation  a-roll- 
ing.  A  secretary  took  down  every  word  they  were  saying.  This 
casual  talk  was  the  basis  for  the  script.  By  the  time  they 
met  again  for  rehearsal,  Groucho  had  injected  enough  gags 
in  the  script  to  lift  it  into  sheer  travesty.  He  picks  up  a 
pun  not  only  with  his  fellow  actors,  but  deals  devastatingly 
with  his  own  comment.  This  implies  an  easy  gift  of  steering 
conversation  to  comic  destruction. 

Most  of  the  writers  of  radio  comedy  began  their  work  in 
other  fields.  Wilkie  Mahoney,  writer  for  Ed  Wynn,  was  a 

248  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

contributor  to  the  humorous  magazines  like  Life  and  Judge. 
Harry  Tugen  was  in  the  show  business,  took  to  writing  for 
the  stage  and  was  eventually  hired  by  Fred  Allen  as  a  special 
assistant  on  the  "Town  Hall"  program.  Harry  Conn  was  a 
tap  dancer.  Sam  Perrin,  who  writes  for  Phil  Baker,  played 
the  trap  drum.  John  R.  Medbury,  who  writes  thousands  of 
gags  from  which  Burns  and  Allen  collect  their  material, 
started  as  a  newspaper  columnist. 

So,  let  not  your  calling  deter  you  from  making  a  try  at 
the  deadly  stuff  one  calls  radio  humor.  From  an  altruistic 
standpoint,  you  may  prove  to  be  the  comedian's  salvation. 
And  you  might  suddenly  wake  up  and  find  yourself  famous 
or  rich. 

Harry  Conn  reached  the  all-time  high  in  salary  for 
"humor  writers."  His  contract  with  Jack  Benny  provided 
for  payment  of  twenty-five  per  cent  of  the  comedian's  salary. 
This  was  in  1936  when  Benny  was  getting  seven  thousand 
dollars  a  broadcast.  Conn  was  subsequently  under  contract 
to  Joe  Penner's  sponsors  at  a  salary  equal  to  that  of  Joe 
Penner — one  thousand  five  hundred  dollars  a  program. 

The  average  weekly  salary  for  a  good  gag  writer  is  five 
hundred  dollars,  less  than  one-tenth  of  a  good  comedian. 
The  highest  paid  gag-writer  is  Don  Quinn,  sole  writer  for 
the  Fibber  McGee  (NBC)  at  three  thousand  seven  hundred 
and  fifty  dollars  a  week. 

The  Comedian's  Taboos 

Pity  the  poor  comedian,  tied  down  by  the  taboos  and 
decrees  of  radio.  The  presentation  of  humor  by  the  human 
voice  alone  has  created  the  unwritten  laws  of  "good  taste" 
and  "public  decency."  The  comedian  is  at  the  mercy  of 
sponsors,  agencies  and  networks  and  the  regulations  and 
rules  must  be  followed  no  matter  how  cruel  they  appear. 

Fred  Allen  finds  the  restrictions  on  comedy  style  cramp- 


ing  and  oppressive.  "Radio  comedy,"  he  says,  "will  remain 
in  its  infancy  as  long  as  network  executives  see  fit  to  censor 
and  blue-pencil  scripts  for  the  silliest  reasons.  They  are 
holding  back  program  progress  by  exercising  editorial 
powers  for  the  most  absurd  reasons." 

A  more  direct  internal  censorship  has  been  discovered  by 
Mort  Lewis  which  he  claims  works  to  the  disadvantage  of 
writers  of  comedy.  "There  should  be  no  favoritism  in 
censorship,"  he  urges. 

And  further:  "Various  censorship  restrictions  are  inter- 
preted by  the  network  in  different  fashion,  depending  on 
the  importance  of  the  comedian.  W.  C.  Fields  uses  types  of 
jokes  which  are  on  the  banned  list — though  in  the  theater 
they  wouldn't  even  be  milk  toast-mild.  However,  when  an- 
other writer  attempts  to  merely  approach  the  Fields  standard 
of  rough-house  humor  with  a  lesser  comedian,  the  script  is 
completely  censored.  No  wonder  a  radio  comedy  program  is 
likely  to  be  bad,  when  it  must  be  entirely  rewritten  the  day 
of  the  broadcast." 

Let  us  take  some  of  the  major  restrictions  with  regard  to 
topical  events  and  personalities. 

President  Roosevelt:  It  is  not  regarded  in  good  taste  to 
lend  the  president  to  the  ridiculousness  of  a  comedy  pro- 
gram. Gags  that  favorably  portray  the  Chief  Executive  are 
also  generally  shunned.  Ed  Wynn  once  used  a  joke  about 
President  Roosevelt,  who  could  be  known  as  the  greatest 
lover  of  all  time  because  of  his  supreme  "courting."  This 
piece  of  witticism  was  ruled  out. 

President  Roosevelt  is  reported  to  have  stated  his  favorite 
joke  of  the  year  as  the  one  recently  aired  on  a  Fibber  McGee 
program.  Against  a  background  of  "My  friends  .  .  ."  chat- 
ter, a  woman  listener  said,  "Oh,  Frank,  get  another  station." 
The  response  that  cheered  Roosevelt  was:  "Myrtle,  when 
you  hear  'my  friends'  on  the  air,  you  can't  get  another 

250  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

Congress  and  American  Politicians:  Leave  both  groups 
severely  alone.  These  topics  cause  hysterics  with  sponsors 
similar  to  the  conniptions  over  Roosevelt  gags.  Ted  Husing 
recalls  a  sponsor  who  forbade  any  gags  "about  that  Delta  of 
the  Mississippi,  Huey  Long."  The  sponsor  didn't  love  Huey 
but  feared  that  the  Senator,  if  offended,  would  sock  a  Louisi- 
ana state  tax  on  the  advertised  product. 

Supreme  Court:  References  to  this  august  body  are  dis- 
couraged. Sponsors  have  been  known  to  clip  out  the  jokes 
mentioning  the  "nine  old  men."  When  issues  are  strongly 
divided  in  the  public  mind,  the  sponsor  plays  safe. 

Potentates  of  state,  and  ex-rulers  still  alive:  Certain  sub- 
tleties might  pass,  but  comic  references  to  General  Franco, 
Hitler,  Mussolini,  when  overdrawn  are  undiplomatic  and 
would  involve  immediate  protest  from  nationals.  The  net- 
works rigorously  banned  quips  about  the  then  Mrs.  Simpson 
during  the  abdication  period  of  the  present  Duke  of 

Other  actors:  Here  the  test  is  the  possible  injury  the  joke 
may  bring  to  the  victims.  References  to  Garbo's  feet  or  Mae 
West's  figure  are  approved  because  of  their  semi-advertising 
value  for  these  ladies.  The  subject  of  Peggy  Garcia's  breach 
of  promise  suit  against  Rubinoff  was  not  in  the  mentionable 
class.  Nor  was  Jack  Benny's  smuggling  venture  with  the 
United  States  Government. 

Fred  Allen  once  complained  that,  "just  because  NBC 
happens  to  be  sponsoring  a  symphonic  series  headed  by 
Toscanini,  no  one  can  even  mention  the  maestro's  name.  I 
wrote  Toscanini's  name  into  a  script  in  a  most  compli- 
mentary manner,  but  it  was  ruled  right  out.  I  had  to  change 
the  line  to  include  Stokowski's  name,  but  even  then  they 
urged  me  to  substitute  a  fictitious  take-off  like  Kotowski." 

Language  Taboos:  Here  the  laws  of  good  taste  prevail. 
Words  that  might  provoke  "trouble"  are  generally  cut  out. 
One  seldom  hears  phrases  such  as  "you're  crazy,"  or  "you're 


out  of  your  head."  Expressions  like  "dope,"  "hell,"  and 
"sex,"  are  to  be  used  with  extreme  caution. 

In  the  recent  Allen-Benny  feud,  the  comedians  hurled 
the  term  "anemic"  at  each  other  frequently  and  with  as 
much  ferocity  as  the  bloodless  word  could  stand.  The  station 
was  in  receipt  of  many  letters  which  complained  "anemic 
might  be  a  funny  term  to  you,  but  it  isn't  so  funny  to  a  lot 
of  people  who  are  that  way." 

When  Jack  Benny  and  Fred  Allen  make  a  joint  appear- 
ance before  the  microphone  they  make  a  high  spirited 
departure  from  the  script.  Jack  Benny  had  a  line  about 
water  over  the  darn.  "Over  the  darn?"  asked  Fred.  "Yes,  you 
know  how  careful  we  have  to  be  on  the  radio."  A  few 
minutes  later  WEAF  received  an  angry  phone  call  from  a 
woman  who  said  she  represented  the  "League  of  Decency." 
"We  caught  the  full  implication  of  those  'over  the  darn' 
remarks,"  she  said.  "The  National  Broadcasting  Company 
will  hear  from  our  organization  tomorrow.  You  may  count 
on  it." 

Jokes  involving  long  sequences:  These  are  watched  very 
carefully.  In  a  long  sequence  joke,  a  listener  tuning  in 
during  the  middle,  without  having  listened  to  the  full  con- 
text, might  put  a  dirty  meaning  to  what  is  being  said 

Strikes:  The  sitdowners  afforded  many  a  wise  crack,  but 
to  mention  specific  parties  was  not  allowed.  The  WPA 
worker  came  in  for  his  share  of  jibes,  and  it  is  indiscreet 
now  to  lampoon  the  man  on  relief.  This  is  a  sample  of  the 
kind  of  jokes  that  flourished:  "Just  read  that  a  WPA  worker 
broke  his  neck.  Termites  ate  through  his  handle." 

Embarrassing  incidents  in  the  News:  Public  opinion  splits 
on  these  matters,  and  the  side  favoring  the  victim  will  make 
vigorous  protest. 

Laxative,  diseases,  bodily  functions  of  any  kind:  Under 
the  ban  completely.  Never  try  to  ring  in  products  like  "Lydia 
Pinkham"  or  "Sloane's  Liniment"  or  anything  similar. 

252  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

While  such  products  are  not  laxatives,  there  will  be  a  nota- 
tion on  the  blue-pencilled  joke  stating  that  mention  of  other 
products  is  not  countenanced. 

Smells  and  odors:  Discouraged,  unpleasant.  In  times  past 
it  was  possible  to  use  the  word  "skunk."  Now  it's  generally 
crossed  out. 

Religious  matters:  Absolutely  taboo.  Even  so  general  a 
term  as  the  word  "church"  has  to  be  handled  carefully.  Phil 
Baker  worked  up  a  gag  once  about  a  skunk  going  to  a  very 
crowded  church.  "So  you  had  to  stand?"  asks  Bottle  sympa- 
thetically. "Oh,  no,"  says  Baker,  "he  brought  his  own  pew." 
A  blue  pencil  was  drawn  through  "church"  and  the  phrase 
"animal  temple"  substituted.  That's  how  it  went  out. 

Blue  and  Off-color  jokes:  These  are  slashed  unmercifully 
as  on  screen  and  stage.  Because  of  the  mixed  audience,  air 
must  be  kept  pure  from  suggestive  smut,  and  sexy  innuendo. 
A  comedian  who  tells  a  joke  that  can  be  interpreted  as 
offensive  does  immeasurable  harm.  Where  to  draw  the  line? 
Here  the  censor  must  use  the  nicest  discrimination.  Mrs. 
Freedman  instanced  this  dialogue  as  the  type  that  did  not 
pass:  Patient:  "What  does  that  sign  down  the  hall  say?" 
Doctor:  "Please  refrain  from  making  a  nurse." 

Human  deformity,  illness,  disease,  death:  It  takes  a  trigger 
mind  to  devise  jokes  along  these  lines  that  will  not  be  con- 
sidered in  bad  taste.  Even  stuttering  has  fallen  into  the 
discard  as  a  phase  of  radio  humor. 

Industries  and  occupations:  Jokes  about  insurance  men 
and  bankers  are  frowned  upon,  although  vaudeville  thrived 
on  them  for  years.  The  story  of  the  radio  comedian  who 
made  the  wise-crack  about  a  pharmaceutical  student  who 
won  his  degree  of  Doctor  of  Philosophy  because  he  was  a 
whiz  at  making  mayonnaise,  won  protests  from  drug 
stores  all  over  the  country. 

Ed  Wynn  was  once  asked  not  to  use  a  joke  referring  to  a 
million  dollar  baby  and  a  five  and  ten  cent  store. 

RADIO    COMEDIANS    ARE    SUCH    UNFUNNY    PEOPLE          253 

Peoples,  religions,  creeds:  The  growth  of  intolerance  has 
forcibly  reflected  itself  in  racial  or  dialectic  humor.  Certain 
races  resent  being  burlesqued  on  the  air,  even  if  the  kidding 
or  story  telling  is  done  by  a  member  of  the  race  involved. 
The  Scotch,  with  a  super-developed  sense  of  humor,  are 
most  tolerant  of  jokes  at  their  expense. 

Comedians  and  other  mike  performers  might  think  that 
they  are  getting  a  tough  deal,  but  the  strain  that  censorship 
puts  on  the  network  is  infinitely  tougher.  At  NBC,  the  task 
of  censorship  falls  upon  Miss  Janet  McRories,  Continuity 
Acceptance  Editor. 

The  Comedian's  Vocal  Manners 

The  voice  guides  the  destiny  of  the  radio  comedian. 
Even  gags  that  are  dead  in  print  can  be  prodded  into  hilari- 
ous life  by  the  right  vocal  touch.  Ideas  can  be  made  ridicu- 
lous by  unusual  pitches,  sudden  changes  of  inflection, 
exaggerated  emphasis  and  unusual  vocal  coloring. 

Each  comedian  has  a  distinct  vocal  manner  which  identi- 
fies him  with  the  radio  audience.  Bob  Burns,  for  example, 
is  uniformly  rhythmical  in  speech.  He  rambles  through  his 
hill-billy  stories  with  a  sing-song  monotony.  Two  arrangers 
found  that  his  talk  could  be  fitted  to  a  musical  time  signature 
of  4/4  with  an  occasional  lapse  into  3/4  time. 

Phil  Baker  reflects  the  wise-guy,  know-it-all  tonality;  Fred 
Allen  dispenses  nonsense  nasally  with  sardonic  overtones; 
Eddie  Cantor  builds  up  the  punch  line  with  high  pitches 
and  the  exuberance  of  the  "gee-whiz"  school.  In  a  lesser  de- 
gree Al  Jolson  also  carries  on  with  youthful  glee  and  swag- 
ger, and  seems  to  have  an  endless  amount  of  vitality.  Jack 
Benny  employs  the  drawl  and  wins  a  laugh  even  with  a 
feeble  gag.  George  Burns  symbolizes  the  indulgent  husband 
with  a  quality  of  voice  that  is  half-kindly  and  half  reproving. 

Gracie  Allen's  success  in  character  is,  in  no  small  measure, 

254  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

due  to  her  voice.  The  giggling  high  pitch  of  comic  hysteria 
makes  our  ears  act  as  the  antennae  of  the  ridiculous.  Her 
tones  match  any  answers. 

Beatrice  Lillie  was  introduced  to  radio  on  Rudy  Vallee's 
program.  For  twenty-six  weeks  as  Beatrice  Borden  she  pre- 
sented a  type  of  humor  that  was  unique  on  the  air.  She 
could  no  longer  rely  upon  the  mute  eloquence  of  panto- 
mime, the  flash  of  her  eyes,  the  twist  of  her  mouth,  or  the 
unexpected  stumble  of  her  feet.  She  had  to  rely  upon  her 
rare  gift  of  conveying  subtle  double  meanings.  Her  peculiar 
off-pitch  intonations  lend  the  quality  of  superb  travesty  to 
her  spoofing. 

The  most  important  asset  of  the  comedian  is  to  maintain 
an  authenticity  in  voice  that  is  his  own  peculiar  impersona- 
tion. The  slightest  suggestion  that  the  comedian  has  stepped 
out  of  "character"  vocally,  will  break  the  rapport  of  the 
listener.  Comic  realism  requires  consistent  portrayal  in 

The  radio  audience  has  come  to  expect  that  the  comedi- 
an's vocal  manner  be  effortless,  spontaneous  and  natural  to 
the  character  portrayed.  This  apparent  ease  of  manner  is 
usually  the  result  of  hard  years  of  trial  and  error  on  the 
stage.  The  successful  radio  comedian  has  worked  out  and 
perfected  every  mannerism  in  voice  calculated  to  catch  the 
laugh.  The  individual  quality  of  voice  in  the  comedian 
springs  from  the  imagination.  Without  the  ability  to  throw 
himself  into  "mood"  the  unconvincing  rendering  of  lines 
will  be  fatal  to  any  comedian. 

Ed  Wynn,  who  galloped  up  to  the  microphone  hysterically 
whooping  life  into  many  an  embalmed  joke,  lays  down  this 
condition  for  the  comedian's  success:  "Creative  clowning 
must  have  an  air  of  complete  conviction  on  the  part  of  an 
actor  to  achieve  any  success  at  all.  To  be  a  zany  on  the  stage, 
a  player  must  convince  himself  twice  a  day  that  he's  as  mad 
as  a  hatter,  a  trick  which  has  come  to  be  second  nature 


when  you've  dabbled  in  lunacy  as  I  have."  The  spirit  of  the 
comedian's  performance  often  depends  upon  proper  timing. 
All  this  is  a  matter  of  experiment,  for  what  is  good  timing 
in  vocal  method  for  one  comedian  will  be  dismal  for  an- 
other. Ed  Wynn  reminds  us  that  his  stuff  would  sound 
terrible  if  some  one  else  spoke  his  lines. 

George  Jessel,  piqued  at  not  being  able  to  get  a  start  in 
radio,  once  observed  that  to  succeed  as  a  comedian  "you 
must  be  able  to  make  funny  noises."  As  a  supreme  test  for 
the  comedian,  someone  suggested  that  he  try  to  simulate  the 
sounds  which  come  from  an  oyster  shuddering  under  a 
sprinkle  of  tabasco  sauce.  The  tradition  that  funny  noises 
are  best  suited  for  radio  comedy  is  not  likely  to  pass  soon. 
There  is  always  some  new  way  of  making  a  noise. 

Joe  Penner  started  the  "hollering"  style  of  the  simpleton 
that  gave  children  and  adults  the  idea  of  having  a  lot  of 
noisy  fun.  It  was  a  vogue — this  blatant  manner  of  being 
comic — sheer  noise,  pop  bottle  gurglings,  gags,  and  bedlam, 
ending  with  a  blast  of  catch  phrases:  "you  naaasty  man," 
"don't  ever  dooooo  that,"  and  "wanna  buy  a  duck?"  all  en- 
toned  in  what  Cyrus  Fisher  once  called  "a  gloss-epiglottic" 
laugh  and  loose-nut  delivery. 

Much  of  Phil  Baker's  success  was  due  to  the  hollow  malev- 
olent voice  of  his  stooge  "Beetle."  The  ghostly  voice  of  the 
heckler  belonged  to  Henry  Arthur  Ladd.  The  voice  went 
through  a  filter  and  emerged  from  a  radio  loud  speaker  with 
a  metallic  quality  that  was  the  engineer's  idea  of  how  a 
ghost  should  talk. 

Words,  too,  have  a  way  of  tickling  the  ear.  Fred  Allen 
finds  the  word  "puss"  the  surest  comic  word  in  the  English 
language.  Whenever  he  wants  to  be  sure  of  a  laugh  on  a  line, 
he  just  calls  someone  "crinklepuss"  or  something  like  that 
at  the  end. 

Dialect  is  an  important  aid  to  the  radio  comedian.  Here 
the  comedian  moves  on  dangerous  ground,  for  dialect  must 

256  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

be  so  convincingly  real  as  to  make  us  believe  it  is  not  dialect 
at  all.  It  was  generally  believed  that  gags  sounded  funnier  if 
they  were  presented  in  dialect  rather  than  in  normal  voice. 
Those  who  have  achieved  distinction  as  dialecticians  owe 
their  success  to  their  ability  to  build  up  a  distinct  per- 
sonality through  voice.  Through  the  dislocation  of  English 
sounds  the  laugh  is  achieved  by  phonetic  burlesque. 

For  many  years  Jack  Pearl  and  his  stooge  Hall  Cliff,  kept 
alive  on  the  vaudeville  stage  the  Weberfieldian  tradition. 
On  the  air  for  Lucky  Strike,  Pearl  instituted  the  vogue  for 
dialect  with  the  same  "Dutch"  distortions,  this  time  in  the 
role  of  that  master  prevaricator,  Baron  Munchausen.  Many 
were  his  followers  who  branched  out  into  other  dialects. 

Teddy  Bergman  first  came  to  radio  as  ''Joe  Palooka."  He 
can  expertly  break  into  an  imitation  of  a  Swede,  Jew,  Dutch- 
man, and  a  score  of  other  nationalities.  One  of  his  early 
brain  children  was  Blubber,  a  big,  helpless,  overgrown  boy 
of  nineteen  with  nit-wit  stuttering  instincts  when  things 
went  wrong.  To  achieve  as  a  dialectician,  study  the  dialect. 
Bergman  tells  how  he  tutored  with  a  German  butcher  whose 
accent  was  so  thick  you  could  hardly  cut  it  with  his  own 
cleaver.  Next  he  picked  his  Italian  iceman. 

The  imaginative  figure  of  Schlepperman  which  appeared 
in  radio  in  1933,  was  so  clearly  defined  to  his  listeners  that 
his  creator,  Sam  Hearn,  refused  to  write  lines  in  his  script 
that  would  seem  alien.  Hearn  definitely  fixed  the  vogue  for 

A  recent  recruit  to  radio  comedy  via  the  Rudy  Vallee 
program  is  Lew  Lehr.  His  special  talent  lies  in  the  use  of  a 
splutter  of  dialect  which  soars  into  subtle  imitation  and 
sophistication.  For  comedy  effects  he  employs  a  broad  lisp. 
His  catch  phrases  "s'marvelous!"  and  "monkeys  are  the 
cwaziest  people!"  are  enough  to  provoke  visions  of  the  man 
who  grimaces  for  all  Movietone  News  fans.  He  is  at  home 

RADIO    COMEDIANS    ARE    SUCH    UNFUNNY    PEOPLE          257 

equally  in  Jewish,  Oxford,  and  Cockney  dialect.  For  French 
he  employs  a  horrible  concoction  of  half  French  and  half 
Jewish,  because  he  says  French  dialect  is  not  funny. 

The  laugh  of  the  comedian  can  indicate  every  sentiment 
from  a  gushing  haw-haw  to  the  most  refined  chuckle.  The^ 
stooge  who  acts  as  assistant  in  lunacy,  often  contributed  to 
comedy  effects  by  the  character  of  his  laugh.  When  Don  Wil- 
son guffaws,  he  actually  enjoys  the  show  no  matter  how 
many  times  he  has  heard  it,  and  Harry  von  Zell  is  classed 
as  one  of  the  most  honest  laughers  in  radio. 

There  is  something  of  the  laughing  streak  that  Graham 
McNamee  and  Ed  Wynn  had  in  common.  When  Wynn  went 
to  a  rival  network  he  was  forced  to  do  without  McNamee. 
Over  a  hundred  announcers,  lesser  comics  of  the  air,  and 
actors  were  called  to  try  out  for  the  post  of  McNamee.  They 
were  asked  to  listen  to  transcriptions  of  Wynn's  programs 
to  see  if  they  could  copy  McNamee's  expert  stooging  style 
and  his  vocal  manner.  It  was  essential  that  the  stooge  selected 
not  only  know  pace,  and  the  adroit  art  of  build-up,  but  also 
possess  a  microphone  voice  that  carried  dignity  and  could 
explode  in  a  laugh.  John  S.  Young  was  finally  selected,  but 
could  not  give  Wynn  that  special  lift  that  McNamee  offered. 

Every  radio  comedian  wishes  there  were  truth  in  Ella 
Wheeler  Wilcox's  familiar  saying:  ''Laugh  and  the  world 
laughs  with  you."  Let  the  comedian  try  a  merry,  spontaneous 
laugh  and  he  will  soon  find  how  hard  the  technique  is.  It 
is  amazing  how  the  ear  of  the  listener  catches  the  slightest 
false  giggle  or  laugh. 


Timing  is  the  comedian's  sixth  sense  for  the  precise  dia- 
logue pace  which  vitalizes  his  humor.  If  he  applies  himself 
at  too  swift  or  too  slow  a  pace,  the  comedian's  attempts  may 
be  tragic.  Almost  instinctively  the  comedian  must  anticipate 
the  reaction  of  the  listener.  He  may  choose  to  burst  the 

258  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

comic  bubble  with  swift  thrust,  or  indulge  his  comic  fancy 
in  slow  feints  and  passes. 

All  this  implies  that  the  comedian  establishes  a  pace  that 
is  appropriate  to  his  material  and  style.  Only  practice  can 
determine  how  the  audience  will  react.  Timing  for  the 
comedian  is  not  merely  measurement  by  the  clock  of  his 
rate  of  delivery.  Timing  also  involves  the  use  of  appropriate 
phrase,  pause,  repetition,  the  laugh,  and  those  nuances  of 
intonation  and  delivery  which  are  the  life  pulse  of  the  jester. 
You  must  know  when  to  pick  up  a  joke  and  when  to  let  go 
of  it.  Phil  Baker  has  remarked  that  a  radio  comic,  like  a 
billiard  champion,  is  lost  without  his  cue. 

The  first  task  of  the  radio  comedian  is  to  adjust  his  timing 
to  listener  reaction.  Without  a  visible  audience,  it  is  difficult 
to  gauge  the  tempo.  Ed  Wynn  and  Eddie  Cantor  used  to 
establish  mood  and  tempo  by  wearing  burlesque  costumes. 
Comedians,  one  by  one,  fell  in  line  with  the  practice  of  car- 
rying on  with  studio  audiences  present.  From  the  audience 
they  got  the  feel  of  the  split  second  where  laughs  will 

Many  laughs  in  the  studio  are  infectiously  whipped  into 
being  by  a  laughing  clique.  Many  believe  that  the  uproarious 
laugh  of  the  audience  has  only  a  nuisance  value  for  the 
listener.  Surveys  will  probably  show  that  if  the  listener 
in  the  privacy  of  his  home  exults  in  the  jokes  of  the  co- 
median, he  will  join  in  the  chorus  laughter  of  the  studio.  If 
he  finds  the  witticisms  dull  and  labored,  he  will  mentally 
berate  the  studio  audience  for  blowing  up  into  a  laughing 

With  Edgar  Bergen,  timing  is  the  thing.  Bergen  not  only 
has  a  split-second  register  of  cues  and  rejoinders,  but  he  also 
uses  dialogue  which  is  a  semi-continued  story  around  a 
character.  Timing  techniques  vary  with  comedy  styles:  Allen 
— dry,  ironically  nasal,  moving  along  quickly  with  beautiful 
precision  in  word  twists;  Amos  and  Andy — reflective;  But- 

RADIO    COMEDIANS    ARE    SUCH    UNFUNNY    PEOPLE          259 

terworth — vacuous,  optimistic,  owl-faced;  Wynn — boister- 
ous, raucous,  fire-alarmist;  Bob  Burns — measured,  confiden- 
tial, in  sing-song  drawl. 

On  a  Lanny  Ross-Charlie  Butterworth  program,  Groucho 
and  Chico  Marx  once  slowed  down  in  deference  to  radio 
tempo,  on  the  theory  that  radio  listeners  can  not  keep  pace 
with  the  rapid  flow  of  wit.  The  result  was  flat  and  lagging 
because  their  straining  for  effects  seemed  too  obvious.  At  a 
second  trial,  the  zany  went  back  to  the  headlong  pace  which 
is  their  successful  and  natural  manner.  The  chief  problem 
of  comedy  is  to  keep  the  tempo  high.  Fred  Allen  has  been 
criticized  for  a  delivery  too  fast  for  the  ordinary  ear.  He  re- 
fuses to  retard  his  tempo,  having  found  it  successful  during 
five  years  of  experiment. 

Each  member  of  a  radio  comedy  must  coordinate  in  tim- 
ing according  to  styles  of  playing.  A  stooge,  for  example, 
feeds  a  forceful  line  to  Jack  Benny,  one  calculated  to  irri- 
tate the  vanity  of  the  comedian.  Benny  might  miss  the  point 
entirely;  Mary  might  let  out  a  nervous  giggle;  the  dialect 
stooge  or  the  conductor  might  pick  up  the  subject  with  a 
"slow-burn,"  reaching  the  height  of  comedy  as  the  laugh 
dissolved  into  the  next  part  of  the  program.  If  timed  exactly 
right,  and  timed  to  give  each  of  the  actofs  a  chance  to  regis- 
ter, the  scene  should  successively  garner  the  expected  "spot 

To  keep  a  program  moving  at  a  rapid  pace,  experiment 
has  proved  that  there  must  be  at  least  four  "sock"  gags 
a  minute.  This  means  sixty  jokes  for  one  fifteen-minute  pro- 
gram. On  a  thirty-minute  program,  Wynn  and  Graham  had 
some  seventeen  minutes  of  comedy  between  them.  Wynn 
clocked  his  sure-fire  laughs  accurately,  three  to  a  minute,  a 
laugh  for  every  twenty  seconds.  The  rest  of  the  time  was 
spent  in  building  up  for  the  laughs  and  feeding.  Graham 
was  the  perfect  "yes  man"  for  the  perfect  fool.  His  timing 

260  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

was  skilful  and  Wynn  relied  on  him  for  his  spontaneous 

Laughs  are  graded  as  "fair,"  "good,"  and  "belly."  The 
rounds  of  applause  are  carefully  measured.  It  may  seem  like 
a  Baron  Munchausen  tale,  but  it  was  accurately  estimated 
that  the  best  that  Jack  Pearl  ever  did  was  one  hundred  and 
twenty-six  laughs  and  twenty-six  rounds  of  applause  in  six- 
teen minutes,  and  that  was  a  record. 

We  may  best  illustrate  these  principles  by  a  study  of  an 
actual  broadcast  of  Ed  Wynn  on  the  A  &  P  hour. 

Wynn:  I've  got  a  friend  who  is  a  boxer.  Once  he  hung  up 
his  coat  in  a  restaurant,  but  he  was  afraid  someone  would 
run  off  with  it. 

This  was  the  beginning  of  the  joke,  but  since  the  audience 
began  to  titter  the  pace  became  slower. 

Graham:  They  do  that.  Philosophically. 

Wynn:  What  do  you  mean,  "They  do  that?"  Wynn  is 
stalling  now. 

Graham:  They  run  off  with  them.  I  recognize  that  coat 
you've  got  on.  Pause  for  laughs.  Continues  giggling.  Then 
Wynn  continues  with  the  joke  as  he  started. 

Wynn:  This  friend  of  mine  was  afraid  someone  would 
run  off  with  his  coat  so  he  put  a  sign  on  it.  He  hung  a  sign 
on  it  saying,  "This  coat  belongs  to  the  champion  boxer  of 
the  world  and  I'll  be  back."  Here  Wynn  slows  up  in  pace 
and  makes  funny  noises,  then  continues. 

Wynn:  Do  you  know  what  happened,  Graham?  Do  you 
know  what  happened?  Pause  until  the  audience  grasps  the 
full  meaning  of  the  repetition. 

Graham:  No.  Chuckling,  which  is  an  accepted  device  in 
timing.  What  happened? 

Wynn:  When  he  came  back,  Graham,  he  found  another 
sign  hanging  where  the  coat  had  been.  This  sign  said — the 
sign  said,  "This  coat  was  taken  by  the  champion  runner  of 
the  world,  and  I  won't  be  back." 

The  audience  roars  with  laughter,  but  Wynn,  listening 
carefully,  decides  he  is  not  getting  quite  the  laugh  he  wants. 
He  waits  for  the  first  lull  and  then  swiftly  adds: 


Wynn:  You  know,  Graham,  I'm  really  surprised  they 
laugh  at  some  of  these.  At  the  finish  laughter  breaks  out 
again.  The  unexpected  touch  makes  the  joke  seem  twice  as 

Any  comedy  program  may  be  similarly  analyzed  as  to  tim- 
ing. The  slightest  error  in  timing,  the  tiniest  over-develop- 
ment spells  ruin.  If  the  gags  are  climaxed  successfully,  they 
mount  up  with  increasing  gales  of  laughter.  It  is  evident  that 
gags  piled  one  on  top  of  each  other  without  regard  to 
listener  response  will  kill  each  other  off. 

Holding  Comic  Control 

Analyze  the  technique  of  your  favorite  radio  comedian. 
Observe  how  effects  are  gained  by  surprise  ending,  or  by 
some  misuse  or  twist  of  phrase,  or  by  some  incongruity  which 
captures  the  mind.  The  personality  and  style  of  the  co- 
median vary,  but  there  are  definite  principles  which  guide 
both  the  comedian  and  the  writer.  We  may  here  briefly 
set  the  important  rules  for  holding  comic  control. 

1.  The  first  device  employed  by  the  radio  comedian  is 
that  of  speed.  Listeners  who  are  kept  on  the  run  have  no 
time  in  which  to  be  analytical.  There  is  a  certain  hypnotic 
control  that  follows  with  the  swingier  and  swifter  pace. 

2.  The  second  device  flows  from  the  vigor  and  animation 
of  the  performer.  It  is  a  vocal  manner  that  infects  the  listener 
irresistibly.  The  whole  scene  is  suffused  by  the  personality  of 
the  comedian  whose  superior  strength  is  unquestioned.  It 
is  his  duty  to  sustain  this  rapport  with  the  listeners  until 
the  end  of  the  program.  The  principal  characteristic  of  Ed 
Wynn's  style  has  been  its  speed,  no  joke  longer  than  a  line 
or  two,  and  one  gag  piled  on  top  of  another.  He  avoids  the 
long  story.  The  full  measure  of  joy  in  life  seems  to  come 
tumbling  forth  in  an  endless  torrent. 

3.  Under-emphasis  in  comedy  is  another  trick  of  timing. 

262  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

Ken  Murray  explained  imder-emphasis  as  rising  toward  the 
climax  with  zest  and  then  throwing  the  punch  away  by  let- 
ting it  down  with  a  mumble  as  if  they  had  lost  interest. 

4.  The  building  of  a  gag  requires  craftsmanship.   The 
comedian  works  up  to  his  climax,  without  overdoing  it.  A 
long-drawn-out  gag  is  generally  fatal  if  the  expectancy  of 
the  listener  is  not  fulfilled  in  the  laugh.  Avoid  unnecessary 
detail.  Only  by  a  means  of  a  suppression  of  considerable  and 
even  essential  part  of  the  action,  is  an  effect  of  wit  or  humor 
obtained.  The  trick  lies  in  leaving  the  actual  progress  of 
events  to  the  imagination  of  the  listener.  We  laugh  when  we 
are  forced  to  a  delightful  inference. 

5.  In  wit  which  involves  a  play  on  words,  the  listener's 
attention  must  pause  twice,  on  meaning  and  on  sound.  If 
the  effort,  however  swift,  is  not  regarded  as  worth  while, 
woe  to  the  pun!  A  good  gag  must  have  a  conclusion  that  is 
perfectly  obvious  to  the  average  listener.   They  must  see 
through  it  at  once.  Humor  is  delightful  when  it  explodes, 
dismal  when  explained. 

6.  The  "punch"  line  stirs  the  laugh.  In  a  series  of  laughs, 
the  comedian  crowds  one  stimulus  on  the  heels  of  the  other, 
and  leads  the  imagination  back  and  forth  with  a  swiftness 
that  sets  the  listener  wondering  what  is  coming  next.  The 
laugh  gives  that  moment  of  relaxation  for  the  listener  to 
adjust  his  interest  for  the  next  "punch"  line.  For  twelve 
minutes  of  talk,  a  comedian  generally  allows  a  spread  of  fif- 
teen minutes. 

7.  The  comedian  may  laugh  with  us,  but  is  a  failure  if 
he  is  suspected  of  laughing  at  his  own  jokes.  The  true  co- 
median makes  us  feel  he  is  laughing  at  laughter. 

8.  If  a  pun  or  a  gag  misses  fire,  four  things  must  have 
happened:  (a)  The  audience  has  failed  to  imagine  the  situa- 
tion; (b)  the  situation  when  imagined  does  not  turn  out  to 
be  a  laughable  one;  (c)  too  much  effort  has  been  made  in 
picking  up  the  similarity  in  sound  on  which  the  pun  is 

RADIO    COMEDIANS    ARE    SUCH    UNFUNNY    PEOPLE          263 

based;  (d)  the  listener  is  already  familiar  with  the  gag  or 
pun  which  has  been  previously  done  to  death  on  the  air. 

The  Future  of  the  Radio  Comedian 

Radio  comedians  suffer  from  the  obsession  that  the  kilo- 
cycles were  made  to  kill  them  off.  The  depleted  stock  of  gags 
constantly  threatens  them  with  starvation.  Few  of  them 
have  had  long  microphone  life.  Those  that  survive  have 
their  week  divided  into  seven  nightmares.  Such  is  the  dismal 
side  of  the  comedian's  career. 

Because  of  this  intense  strain  on  the  comedian,  Groucho 
Marx  turned  down  a  sponsor's  offer  with  the  plea:  "They 
wanted  to  sign  us  up  for  two  years  but  I  held  out  for  six 
weeks.  This  sounds  a  little  crazy,  but  the  thought  of  getting 
twenty  pages  of  jokes  together — even  old  jokes — every  seven 
days  was  too  much  for  us  to  contemplate." 

But  let  us  fully  consider  some  of  the  ills  of  radio  comedy. 
Max  Eastman  in  a  radio  interview  with  Rudy  Vallee  as- 
serted that  the  making  of  jokes  has  become  the  world's  most 
difficult  labor.  He  offers  no  panacea  for  the  comedians' 
plight,  but  warns  them  not  to  overexert:  "This  business  of 
turning  out  forty  thousand  jokes  a  week  for  the  radio  mar- 
ket has  become  a  serious  business,"  suggests  Eastman;  "that's 
the  trouble  with  it.  The  speed  is  too  high,  competition  too 
strong.  The  play  is  out  of  it  and  that's  why  humor  is  stiff 
in  the  joints.  I  can't  see  any  cure  for  it  except  to  get  more 
comedians  and  not  work  them  so  hard — not  let  them  work 
so  hard.  Bring  up  the  chairs  and  force  them  into  a  sitdown 

Radio,  however,  cannot  be  held  entirely  responsible  for 
the  dearth  of  new  jokes.  "Men  cannot  always  be  inventing 
new  jokes,"  says  Aldous  Huxley,  "any  more  than  they  can 
be  inventing  new  religions  or  new  styles  of  poetry." 

The  comedian  cannot  be  blamed  if  he  relies  on  certain 

264  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

venerable  laughter-provoking  traditions.  Always  his  task  is 
formidable.  He  must  keep  abreast  of  the  times.  He  must 
show  folly  at  its  height.  He  must  expose  the  prejudices  and 
caprices  of  mankind  and  account  for  the  incongruities  in  a 
world  which  is  topsy-turvy.  He  must  give  the  mind  a  swift 
holiday  from  the  severities  of  life.  He  must  release  laughter, 
and  let  us  look  at  our  fellow  beings  in  some  sort  of  carica- 
ture. He  must  contradict  our  very  senses. 

The  presentation  of  humor  by  the  voice  alone  has  forced 
the  comedian  to  create  new  techniques.  He  is  just  beginning 
to  discover  himself.  Stephen  Leacock  reminds  us  that  the 
nineteenth  century  took  its  humor  through  books,  the 
printed  page  stimulating  the  mind  to  create  pictures. 
"Presently,"  predicts  Leacock,  "the  perfection  of  television 
and  the  invention  of  talking  books  will  further  alter 

Many  would  provide  the  future  comedian  with  a  training 
in  his  art;  instead  of  serving  his  apprenticeship  by  crude 
imitation  of  others,  he  would  get  a  basic  understanding  in 
first  principles  before  being  turned  loose  on  the  air.  Mort 
Lewis,  himself  a  prolific  writer  of  radio  skits  looks  to  the  col- 
leges for  such  instruction.  He  seriously  proposes: 

"There  should  be  courses  started  by  colleges  or  the  broad- 
casting chains  to  train  writers  in  the  art  of  radio  comedy. 
In  spite  of  the  tremendous  amount  of  junk  perpetrated  on 
the  programs,  and  I  plead  guilty  to  being  responsible  for 
some  of  it — there  is  an  art  or  definite  technique  to  comedy 
program  construction  which  must  be  learned.  It  is  exceed- 
ingly difficult  for  the  beginner  to  break  in,  so  a  prospective 
writer,  no  matter  what  his  talent,  has  little  chance  to  learn 
the  trade.  A  practical  course  could  be  initiated  in  charge  of 
some  comedy  writer  or  production  man,  with  lectures  once 
in  a  while  by  some  of  our  more  articulate  comics  such  as 
Fred  Allen.  After  all,  there  are  college  courses  in  scenario 
writing  and  play  writing." 


Already  courses  in  "humor"  have  been  established  in  some 
colleges.  In  1937,  Professor  W.  E.  Moore  of  the  University 
of  Florida  announced:  "The  university  is  going  to  have  a 
course  in  Humor,  but  it  won't  teach  how  to  be  an  end-man 
or  a  radio  comedian."  This  in  itself  is  a  supreme  wise-crack, 
that  would  bring  chuckles  to  those  comedians  who  get  five 
thousand  dollars  a  week  and  over  without  benefit  of  uni- 
versity studies  to  wit. 

Character  portrayal  has  never  reached  great  heights  in 
radio  comedy.  Comedians  are  searching  for  a  formula  as 
certain  as  that  of  Amos  'n'  Andy.  This  saga  of  the  air  has 
gone  through  over  three  thousand  episodes  in  its  more  than 
eight  years  of  life  over  NBC.  And  each  episode  epitomized 
in  some  way,  the  comic  spirit  that  envelops  the  hopes  and 
frustrations  of  mankind.  Charles  Correll  (Andy)  and  Free- 
man Gosden  (Amos)  have  always  written  their  scripts  them- 
selves. "We  never  could  get  anybody  who  could  write  what 
we  needed.  Writers  always  came  to  us  with  a  lot  of  jokes." 

Radio  is  beginning  to  take  its  cue  from  written  comedy. 
The  enduring  humor  of  the  world  is  fashioned  about  char- 
acters like  Don  Quixote  and  his  English  cousin  Falstaff. 
And  so,  comedy  writers  have  realized  that  audiences  like 
to  ally  themselves  with  some  personality  who  can  mirror 
their  own  foibles.  Who  knows  but  that  some  great  radio 
Mark  Twain  shall  arise  to  create  comedy  figures  that  will 
endure  because  they  typify  for  all  the  world  the  escape  from 
the  burdening  formula  of  our  lives? 

Sophisticates  who  sneer  at  radio  humor  will  never  be 
satisfied  with  our  present  comic  fare.  They  forget  that  radio 
comedy  must  be  mass  humor.  All  men  differ  about  the  laugh- 
able. A  man  is  born  to  see  a  particular  joke  or  he  is  not.  A 
radio  comedian  cannot  educate  him  into  it. 

Radio  cannot  hope  to  regenerate  comedy  as  long  as  every 
radio  joke  is  subject  to  censorship,  and  must  run  the  gaunt- 
let of  prejudices,  reformers,  educational  groups  and  every 

266  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

variety  of  taboo.  Comedy  is  based  on  the  common  denomi- 
nator for  laugh  in  all  sections  of  the  country,  covering  all 
ages  and  all  conditions. 

Critics  may  continue  to  clamor  for  smart  dialogue  and 
sophisticated  comedy.  Experiments  with  studio  audiences 
have  proved  that  the  listeners  react  best  to  the  simplest 
puns  and  to  the  most  obvious  situations.  Radio  has  not  pro- 
duced great  writers  of  comedy  who  have  produced  wit  that 
is  robust  and  endearing.  Specialists  in  this  medium  prefer 
the  stereotyped  forms  that  can  be  turned  out  with  least 
effort.  The  best  writers  fight  shy  at  writing  original  skits 
for  air  production. 

Radio  comedians  employ  a  writing  staff,  highly  special- 
ized. The  ' 'situation"  writers  create  the  locale  and  the  plot. 
The  gag  men  weave  their  jokes  in  and  about  the  story.  It  is 
left  for  re-write  men  to  polish  up  the  script.  Because  revue 
sketches  are  as  difficult  to  write  as  plays,  the  technique  calls 
for  the  condensation  of  inflated  anecdotes  within  the  scope 
of  a  few  pages,  instead  of  over  three  acts.  And  from  first  to 
last  it  must  be  calculated  to  hold  the  listener. 

In  the  good  old  vaudeville  days,  comediajak  could,  with 
safety,  stick  to  their  one  act  year  after  year.  \|nce  the  com- 
edy offering  is  flung  nationwide  over  the  air,  the  thing  is 
dead.  Every  radio  skit  thus  has  a  short  life  and  perhaps  a 
merry  one.  If  it  were  humor  of  the  eternal  kind,  it  would 
survive  on  the  printed  page. 

Benjamin  de  Casseres  finds  the  greatest  danger  that  con- 
fronts this  country  today  is  the  absence  of  a  national  humor- 
ist ''to  inspect  three-fourths  of  the  things  the  country  takes 
over-seriously  and  loosen  them  up  with  gales  of  laughter." 
The  time  is  ripe  for  the  arrival  of  a  national  humorist  like 
Will  Rogers  who  will  throw  bombshells  of  wit  to  perpetuate 
our  democratic  ideals.  "Nothing,"  adds  de  Casseres,  "takes 
the  sufficing  out  of  a  curved  shirt  like  a  well-aimed  guffaw. 


No  wonder  Hitler,  Mussolini  and  Stalin  fear  those  that  make 
fun  of  them  more  than  they  do  the  assassin's  bomb." 

Mort  Lewis  holds  little  hope  for  the  future  of  radio  comedy 
unless  the  writer  is  left  to  his  own  devices  without  undue 
sponsor  interference.  He  gives  a  true  picture  of  the  condi- 
tions that  confront  the  writer  of  comedy: 

"There  are  a  few  sponsors,  thank  heaven,"  says  Lewis, 
"who  have  sufficient  confidence  in  their  writers  and  produc- 
tion men  to  leave  them  more  or  less  alone.  But  a  great  many 
sponsors  insist  on  injecting  elements  which  appeal  to  the 
sponsor  alone,  and  bore  the  audience.  The  writer,  being  on 
the  payroll  must  comply,  or  lose  the  program.  A  competent, 
established  comedian  and  his  comedy  writer  should  have 
full  sway  on  what  comedy  elements  go  into  a  program. 

"There  should  be  one  boss  on  the  program.  There  is  one 
well  known  program  that  has  six  or  seven  bosses.  The  re- 
hearsal is  a  mad  house,  and  the  script  writers  don't  know 
whom  they  have  to  please.  They  get  four  or  five  different 
suggestions  for  the  week's  script,  each  one  contradicting  the 

Comedy  will  continue  to  be  of  gravest  importance  on  well 
balanced  programs.  Radio  today  faces  the  enormous  task 
of  the  New  Deal  in  Comedy. 

THE     CHURCH     OF     THE     AIR 

R\DIO  has  been  called  the  "Handmaid  of  the  Churches." 
The  microphone  now  spreads  far  and  wide  the  doc- 
trine of  the  moral  life  to  multitudes  who  never  have  visited 
churches  or  opened  a  religious  book. 

Services  over  the  air  began  inauspiciously.  On  January  2, 
1921,  for  the  first  time  anywhere  in  the  world,  a  minister's 
voice  spoke  into  the  microphone.  The  voice  was  that  of  the 
Reverend  Edwin  J.  Van  Etten,  Rector  of  the  Calvary  Epis- 
copal Church  of  Pittsburgh,  pronouncing  the  vespers  ser- 
vice over  Station  KDKA.  Listeners  heard  a  homely  parable 
from  the  second  book  of  Samuel,  which  called  forth  the 
Rector's  admonition:  "When  you  are  lost  in  the  woods,  fol- 
low the  rule  of  the  open  road — choose  the  better  road  at 
every  fork."  Only  a  few  hundred  were  privileged  to  hear 
the  broadcast  through  crystal  sets,  but  bundles  of  apprecia- 
tive letters  encouraged  the  minister  to  repeat  the  service. 
The  powerful  appeal  of  the  radio  pulpit  was  just  beginning 
to  be  realized. 

Ten  years  passed  before  the  Church  of  Rome  adopted 
the  new  medium.  Through  the  munificence  of  Marconi,  Sta- 
tion HVJ  (Holy  Vatican  Jesus)  was  established  on  Vatican 
Hill.  Pius  XI  was  the  first  in  history  to  pronounce  over  the 
microphone  a  papal  benediction  to  the  faithful  all  over  the 
world.  The  pope  sat  at  a  draped  desk  in  a  tiny  room  and 
through  a  golden  microphone,  came  the  quivering  voice  of 
His  Holiness  in  alloquy  to  all  creation:  "Qui  arcane  Dei 
consilio  succedimus  loco  Principis  Apostelarum  .  .  ." 

The  early  history  of  radio  preaching  is  the  record  of  vio- 
lent denominational  battles  on  the  air.  Sunday  thundered 


THE    CHURCH    OF   THE    AIR  269 

his  doctrinal  preaching  and  critical  attacks  of  the  faiths  one 
upon  the  other.  A  high  degree  of  sectarianism  sought  to 
fulfill  its  mission  of  gathering  in  converts.  Conditions  grew 
more  and  more  discordant.  No  outside  power  had  as  yet 
evolved  any  method  to  control  the  situation. 

To-day  the  pulpit  of  the  air  is  not  regarded  as  a  means  of 
inculcating  dogma  and  creed,  but  is  linked  with  education 
as  a  social  process  and  product.  The  authority  of  the  radio 
sermon  lies  in  its  emphasis  on  universal  truths  rather  than 
upon  special  doctrine.  The  minister  becomes  the  special  re- 
former and  the  educator  when  he  fights  every  form  of  social 

The  National  Broadcasting  System,  upon  its  organization 
in  1927,  gave  impetus  to  a  sort  of  voluntary  code  of  religious 
broadcasting.  Shortly  after  the  formation  of  the  network,  the 
company  took  steps  to  place  religious  broadcasting  on  a 
plane  of  greater  dignity. 

A  standing  committee  consisting  of  representatives  of  the 
Protestant,  Catholic  and  Jewish  faiths  was  appointed  to  con- 
sider the  question  of  the  national  dissemination  of  religious 
doctrine  over  the  radio.  As  a  result  of  these  conferences,  the 
National  Broadcasting  Company  formulated  the  policies  to 
which  it  now  holds: 

1.  Only  such  faiths  are  served  as  are  the  central  or  na- 
tional agencies  of  great  religious  bodies,  as,  for  example, 
the  Protestant,  the  Roman  Catholic,  and  the  Jewish  faith, 
as  distinguished  from  the  individual  churches  of  small  group 
movements  where  the  national  membership  is  comparatively 

2.  The  religious  message  should  be  non-sectarian  and  non- 
denominational  in  its  appeal. 

3.  The  religious  broadcast  should  be  of  the  widest  appeal, 
presenting  only  the  broad  claims  of  religion,  which  not  only 
aid  in  building  up  the  personal  and  special  life  of  the  indi- 
vidual, but  also  aid  in  popularizing  religion  and  the  church. 

270  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

4.  The  religious  message  broadcast  should  interpret  re- 
ligion at  its  highest  and  best,  so  that  as  an  educational  fac- 
tor, it  will  bring  the  individual  listener  to  realize  his  re- 
sponsibility to  the  organized  church  and  to  society. 

5.  The  national  religious  messages  should  be  broadcast 
by  the  recognized  outstanding  leaders  of  the  several  faiths 
as  determined  by  the  best  counsel  and  advice  available. 

The  Columbia  Broadcasting  System  adapted  a  policy  simi- 
lar to  that  of  NBS  in  the  fall  of  1931,  announcing  that  it 
would  not  sell  time  for  religious  broadcasting.  The  issue 
was  brought  to  a  climax  by  the  vituperative  sermons  of 
Father  Coughlin,  which  up  to  then  had  been  broadcast  over 
the  networks  under  contract.  This  forced  Father  Coughlin 
to  engage  the  facilities  of  an  independent  network  of  twenty- 
seven  stations. 

Free  time  is  given  in  rotation  to  the  major  faiths.  A  half 
hour  each  Sunday  morning  and  afternoon  is  turned  over  to 
the  Protestant,  Catholic,  Jewish,  Christian  Science,  Mormon 
and  Dutch  Churches.  No  discrimination  is  made  against 
other  religious  bodies,  but  time  if  offered  only  when  time  is 
available  and  if  the  broadcast  comes  within  the  meaning  of 
public  interest.  Like  NBC,  the  Columbia  Broadcasting  Sys- 
tem makes  the  provision  that  all  broadcasts  shall  be  con- 
structive in  character  and  free  from  attack  on  members  of 
the  clergy  or  lay  members  of  any  denomination. 

Personality  in  Radio  Preaching 

The  greatest  problem  of  the  Church  of  the  Air  has  always 
been  the  selection  of  religious  leaders  whose  personality 
would  stand  the  test  of  the  microphone.  Failure  in  this  field 
has  made  possible  the  aspersion  -that  radio  is  the  graveyard 
of  many  a  preacher.  In  principle,  the  responsibility  of  select- 
ing preachers  and  religious  programs  is  shifted  by  the  net- 
works upon  lay  or  religious  bodies,  such  as  the  Federation 

THE    CHURCH    OF    THE    AIR  271 

of  Churches  of  Christ  in  America  for  the  Protestants,  the 
National  Council  of  Catholic  Men,  for  the  Catholics,  and  the 
United  Synagogues  of  America  for  the  Jews. 

The  measure  of  the  preacher's  power  over  the  air  lies  in 
those  elusive  qualities  that  make  up  the  "radio  personality." 
All  the  native  endowment  and  ability  of  the  minister  is 
evident  by  his  manner  of  speaking.  The  minister  may  ob- 
serve all  the  rules  of  his  art,  but  be  "faultily  faultless,  icily 
regular,  and  splendidly  null."  Some  divine  has  said  that  a 
man  of  small  personality  cannot  preach  a  great  sermon,  and 
a  man  of  great  personality,  though  he  may  preach  a  small 
sermon,  will  yet  put  behind  it  such  driving  power  that  it 
will  seem  great  and  have  a  great  effect.  Radio  has  a  way  of 
disclosing  the  master  qualities  in  preaching. 

The  Sunday  radio  pulpit  found  a  preacher  of  powerful 
personality  in  the  late  S.  Parkes  Cadman,  who  established 
an  enormous  following.  Dr.  Cadman  was  the  innovator  of 
the  question  and  answer  period  as  a  regular  feature  of  the 
radio  religious  service.  He  carried  over  this  method  from 
his  unbroadcast  hour  which  he  had  conducted  for  many 
years  at  a  Brooklyn  Branch  of  the  YMCA.  At  these  meetings, 
members  of  the  audience  at  the  close  of  his  address  were 
privileged  to  ask  questions  affecting  their  personal  prob- 
lems. Dr.  Cadman  answered  these  questions  impromptu. 

The  vogue  of  Dr.  Cadman  attracted  the  attention  of  NBC. 
The  minister  was  finally  persuaded  to  broadcast  over  the 
national  network  every  Sunday  afternoon.  The  first  broad- 
cast was  conducted  only  as  an  experiment,  but  Dr.  Cadman 
virtually  remains  the  first  preacher  in  the  United  States 
to  have  been  heard  regularly  over  the  air.  In  1928,  he  be- 
came radio  pastor  for  the  Federal  Churches  of  Christ  in 
America.  He,  himself,  was  the  son  of  a  minister  who  for  forty 
years  had  occupied  the  pulpit,  but  in  one  hour's  sermon  Dr. 
Cadman  reached  more  listeners  than  did  his  father  during 
those  forty  years. 

272  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

What  secret  lies  behind  Dr.  Cadman's  extraordinary  ap- 
peal? "Broadcasting  was  very  difficult  for  me  in  those  days," 
he  confessed.  "In  addition  to  the  tremendous  responsibility 
of  trying  to  preach  so  that  everyone,  regardless  of  his  faith, 
would  receive  some  spiritual  guidance,  I  had  the  problem 
of  altering  my  entire  technique.  As  a  minister,  my  oratory 
was  of  the  fiery  type;  I  gesticulated,  walked  up  and  down 
the  platform  while  speaking.  With  only  a  microphone  to 
catch  my  speech,  I  could  no  longer  do  that.  If  I  walked  away 
from  it,  the  radio  audience  would  be  tuned  out.  At  the  be- 
ginning my  friend,  Halsey  Hammond,  secretary  of  the  Y 
where  I  conducted  my  weekly  get-togethers,  sat  on  the  plat- 
form with  me.  If  I  began  to  walk  away  from  the  microphone, 
he  gently  tugged  at  my  coat;  if  I  was  forgetting  the  invisible 
audience,  only  considering  the  visible  one,  I  got  a  tap  on  my 
leg  with  his  toe." 

It  was  thus  in  the  first  instance  that  Dr.  Cadman  was  able 
to  adapt  himself  to  the  microphone.  Secondly,  Dr.  Cadman 
was  prompt  to  realize  that  the  radio  ministry  is  compelled 
to  speak  with  a  tolerant  attitude  toward  workers  in  denomi- 
national fields  other  than  his  own.  In  many  ways  he  disliked 
sectarianism.  With  an  unwearied  enthusiasm  in  humanity 
and  no  hesitation  in  attacking  social  problems  in  a  militant 
way,  he  had  none  of  the  scheming  political  approach  of 
Father  Coughlin.  Prizefights,  jazz,  tabloid  newspapers,  the 
United  States  Senate — every  phase  of  the  contemporary 
scene  came  under  his  analysis. 

The  "Question  and  Answer  Period"  of  Dr.  Cadman's 
broadcasts  established  a  relationship  with  his  audience  that 
no  other  preacher  had  accomplished.  Indeed,  he  anticipated 
the  audience  participation  programs  by  nearly  ten  years. 
If  the  question  echoed  the  listener's  own  problem,  the 
listener  felt  as  if  he  were  an  active  participant  at  the  meet- 
ing. He  came  to  grips  with  their  everyday  situations. 

"How  can  a  father  save  his  boy  from  being  spoiled  by  an 

THE    CHURCH    OF   THE    AIR  273 

over-indulgent  mother?"  .  .  .  "Shall  I  marry  outside  my 
faith?"  .  .  .  "What  should  a  girl  do  who  got  mixed  up  in 
a  mess  by  taking  advantage  of  this  new  freedom?"  .  .  .  "Should 
I  take  military  training  in  a  school  where  it  is  compulsory 
or  shall  I  refuse  pointblank?"  .  .  .  "How  can  I  get  a  job?" 
.  .  .  "How  can  I  make  friends?"  (This  was  in  the  days  before 
the  good  Dale  Carnegie.) 

The  technique  of  question  and  answer  was  unconven- 
tional but  required  some  control.  Questions  were  written 
out  on  slips  of  paper  by  members  of  the  audience  and  read 
aloud  by  an  assistant  immediately  after  the  formal  address. 
The  discussion  took  on  something  of  the  nature  of  a  lively 
conversation.  The  secret  of  Dr.  Cadman's  art  lay  in  that  easy 
charm  which  was  his  special  gift — the  ability  to  talk  to  people 
and  not  at  them.  Although  booming  in  his  tone  at  times  and 
inclined  to  sharp  stress,  his  resonant  voice  imparted  to  his 
words  a  vigor  that  it  is  difficult  to  parallel  in  our  present- 
day  radio  preachers. 

Let  us  submit  one  of  the  typical  questions  and  answers. 
The  question:  "Why  do  men  demand  so  much  of  women 
today  without  being  willing  to  give  them  the  protection  of 
marriage.  What  shall  I  do?"  The  answer  of  Dr.  Cadman: 
"Any  man  who  claims  he  loves  a  woman  and  wishes  to  de- 
grade her  personality  and  destroy  her  self-respect  is  a  hum- 
bug, unworthy  of  one's  friendship.  Does  the  young  man  re- 
vere you  as  the  prospective  mother  of  his  children,  does  he 
regard  you  as  God's  co-partner  in  creating  life?  If  he  does 
not,  have  nothing  to  do  with  him." 

The  market  crash  of  October  1929  lifted  Father  Coughlin 
into  national  fame  as  the  voice  that  spread  hope  and  promise 
of  a  new  order.  He  began  to  preach  politics  and  found  a 
ready  ear  in  millions  of  Americans  who,  broken  and  crushed 
by  the  economic  tornado,  were  wondering  where  to  flee  for 
shelter.  Father  Coughlin  seized  upon  the  mass  emotions  of 
the  people  and  provided  them  with  the  answer.  He  sought 

274  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

out  the  villains  who  were  responsible  for  the  economic 
debacle,  the  "international  bankers,"  "the  money  changers 
in  the  temple,"  "the  wolves  in  sheeps  clothing  who  want  to 
shake  hands  with  Soviet  Russia." 

During  the  years  1929,  1930  and  1931,  the  Catholic  minis- 
ter loomed  up  largely  as  the  tribune  of  the  people  ready  to 
bring  comfort  to  an  outraged  citizenry.  He  was  even  men- 
tioned as  a  possible  dictator.  He  declared  over  the  air, 
"When  the  ballot  becomes  useless,  I  shall  have  the  courage 
to  stand  up  and  agitate  the  use  of  bullets." 

Father  Coughlin's  attacks  on  the  administration  of  Presi- 
dent Roosevelt  were  bold,  merciless,  and  marked  by  vitupera- 
tion. At  the  Townsend  Old  Age  Pension  Convention  at 
Cleveland  in  July  1936,  he  flayed  the  President  as  a  "liar," 
"double-crosser,"  and  "betrayer."  His  intemperate  remarks 
are  said  to  have  called  forth  the  rebuke  of  the  Vatican,  and 
compelled  a  full  personal  apology  in  an  open  letter  to  the 
President.  He  claimed  that  his  words  would  have  been  re- 
strained had  they  not  been  delivered  extemporaneously  "in 
the  heat  of  civic  interest  and  in  righteous  anger." 

The  fall  of  Father  Coughlin  was  heralded  by  the  over- 
whelming vote  of  confidence  the  American  people  gave  to 
Franklin  D.  Roosevelt  in  1936.  Struck  by  the  futility  of  his 
appeal  to  the  American  electorate,  Father  Coughlin  an- 
nounced that  he  was  leaving  the  air  "forever,"  but  in  spite 
of  this  announcement  he  continued  as  the  critic  of  the 
administration  and  the  oracular  voice  of  the  National  Union 
for  Social  Justice  which  he  had  created. 

At  the  outset  of  his  career  Father  Coughlin's  sermons 
dealt  largely  with  moral  problems.  More  and  more  he  began 
to  show  his  ability  and  courage  in  handling  the  social  ques- 
tions of  the  hour.  Dr.  John  Haynes  Holmes,  a  severe  yet  im- 
partial critic  of  Father  Coughlin,  ventured  to  say  in  1934 
that  Father  Coughlin  "has  done  us  all  a  service  in  preaching 
politics  and  herewith  vindicating  the  mission  of  the  church 

THE    CHURCH    OF    THE   AIR  275 

to  save  society  as  the  condition  of  saving  men  and  women. 
Indeed  I  would  go  so  far  as  to  assert  that  there  is  not  a 
Roman  priest,  nor  a  Protestant  clergyman  in  America  to- 
day, who  is  not  a  freer  man,  in  his  preaching  and  public 
service  as  a  result  of  Father  Coughlin's  superb  example  of 
plain  speaking  at  the  microphone." 

Dr.  Holmes  appraised  Father  Coughlin's  radio  sermons 
as  an  amazing  personal  performance  that  showed  up  the  peril 
of  radio  to  the  nation's  life.  "The  mixture  of  good  and  bad 
in  this  latest,  most  miraculous  of  man's  inventions,  and  the 
exclusive  potency  of  this  mixture,  appeals  to  the  imagina- 
tion. In  the  Sunday  afternoon  addresses  of  Father  Coughlin, 
we  see  the  radio  at  what  may  speedily  become  its  worst  and 
certainly  its  most  dangerous  stage." 

Father  Coughlin  used  all  the  tricks  of  oratory  to  arouse 
passion.  He  called  the  president  a  "liar,"  but  later  expressed 
his  sincere  "apology"  for  his  language.  He  knew  how  to  vary 
his  effects  so  as  to  give  the  mind  of  the  listener  a  chance  to 
recover.  He  led  up  to  climaxes  through  artful  periods  of 
calm.  It  was  the  manner  of  the  earnest  orator — the  man 
who  carries  the  torch  of  propaganda  into  the  very  midst  of 
the  enemy,  winning  hosts  of  adherents.  His  words  came  with 
a  soothing  cadence  and  then  changed  to  booming  tonalities 
that  lifted  the  listener  from  lethargy  to  a  fury  of  protest. 
Father  Coughlin's  remarkable  appeal  required  elaborate 
preparation.  He  himself  made  no  secret  of  it.  He  was  well- 
primed  before  he  began  to  talk  to  his  vast  congregation  of 
the  air. 

"I  write  the  discourse,"  he  confided,  "first  in  my  own 
language,  the  language  of  a  cleric.  Then  I  rewrite  it,  using 
metaphors  the  public  can  grasp,  toning  the  phrases  down  to 
the  language  of  the  man-in-the-street.  Sometimes  I  coin  a 
word  to  crystallize  attention.  Radio  broadcasting,  I  have 
found,  must  not  be  high  hat.  It  must  be  human,  intensely 
human.  It  must  be  simple,  but  it  must  be  done  up  in  meta- 

276  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

phors.  It  must  deal  with  something  vital  to  the  life  of  the 
people.  It  must  be  positive." 

An  examination  of  his  method  shows  that  he  is  direct  and 
apparently  factual,  giving  names,  dates,  figures,  particulars. 
It  is  one  thing  to  call  Will  Rogers  "The  millionaire  court 
jester  of  the  billionaire  oil  men";  it  is  quite  another  to  name 
the  bankers  and  describe  the  abuse.  At  one  time  ironical 
and  at  another  time  suggestive,  Father  Coughlin  turns  to 
such  images  as  these: 

"Capitalism  is  a  conspiracy  against  the  immortal  soul  of 
mankind.  Marxian  Socialism  and  Capitalism  are  Siamese 
twins  and  both  are  blind.  Shall  it  be  Karl  Marx  or  Jesus 
Christ  to  lead  us?  The  NRA  is  like  a  fine  motor  car  but 
equipped  with  flat  tires.  A  capable  driver  is  in  the  seat." 
And  there  you  have  the  personal  method  and  philosophy  of 
a  man  who  was  likened  by  a  woman  biographer  to  "the 
modern  Savonarola  stripping  bare  the  vices  of  a  materialistic 

Father  Coughlin's  sudden  rise  to  prestige  and  power  and 
his  swift  dwindling  of  influence  were  equally  phenomenal. 
Multitudes  regarded  him  as  a  fearless  public  leader,  and 
multitudes  looked  upon  him  as  the  "most  vicious  single 
propagandist  in  the  entire  United  States." 

In  1926  Father  Coughlin  was  an  unknown  Catholic  priest 
when  he  stepped  before  the  microphone  at  the  local  station 
WJR  in  Detroit.  Only  a  few  hundred  people  heard  him 
then,  but  from  the  first  he  showed  a  complete  mastery  of 
the  peculiar  technique  of  radio.  Soon  he  was  to  engage  the 
facilities  of  a  national  hook-up  at  a  cost  of  fourteen  thousand 
dollars  an  hour.  In  1933  he  stood  before  a  battery  of  micro- 
phones at  the  Hippodrome  in  New  York  and  preached  cur- 
rency inflation  to  an  audience  estimated  at  over  thirty 

In  answer  to  a  single  radio  appeal  he  received  one  million 
two  hundred  and  fifty  thousand  letters.  By  virtue  of  his 

THE    CHURCH    OF    THE    AIR  277 

radio  preaching  he  was  able  to  erect  the  Shrine  of  the  Little 
Flower  at  an  expense  of  more  than  a  million  dollars  con- 
tributed by  his  admiring  listeners. 

Time  will  appraise  Father  Coughlin  in  the  right  perspec- 
tive. Those  who  called  him  "repetitious"  and  tiresome  failed 
to  appreciate  his  talents.  Severer  critics  look  upon  him  as 
possessing  faults,  which  sooner  or  later  were  sure  to  be  ex- 
posed. In  the  first  place,  Father  Coughlin  spoke  with  pro- 
phetic zeal  on  political  and  economic  problems  to  which 
he  had  not  given  extensive  study.  Secondly,  he  abandoned 
reason  for  mass  emotion,  appealing  to  the  prejudices  of  the 
crowd,  invoking  their  manias,  and  siding  immediately  with 
the  popular  side  of  every  issue.  "It  is  from  such  wild  winds 
of  fury,"  says  Dr.  Holmes,  "that  the  storms  of  Fascism 

Microphone  Injunctions  for  the  Minister 

The  Minister  who  wishes  to  be  kind  to  the  microphone 
should  heed  certain  injunctions: 

1.  Don't  read  in  a  ministerial  tone,  Some  ministers  are 
accustomed  to  the  "holier  than  thou'   attitude  when  preach- 
ing from  the  pulpit.  On  the  air  this  approach  is  exhibited 
vocally  by  a  "ministerial  whine."  Every  utterance  rings  with 
exaggerated  emotion.  The  pitch  takes  an  habitual  upward 
slide  at  the  end  of  sentences.  Instead  of  deeply  sincere  re- 
ligious appeal,  the  effect  is  one  of  mock  seriousness.  Ministers 
should  have  records  made  of  their  sermons  and  study  them 
with  a  view  to  remedying  this  defect. 

2.  Don't  deliver  a  sermon  too  "dramatically."  Many  min- 
isters read  Bible  passages  as  if  they  were  putting  on  a  show. 
There  is  such  a  thing  as  an  excess  of  art.  The  ministers 
should  be  Concerned  with  ideas,  not  with  words.  The  mental 
attitude  should  be  that  of  communicating  directly  to  the 
hearers  as  one  does  in  conversation. 

3.  An  habitual  over-use  of  strong  stress  jars  the  ear.  The 

278  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

effect  is  often  brutally  sharp  and  dogmatic.  A  good  sermon 
should  be  like  a  wedge,  all  telling  and  to  the  point,  but  the 
hammer  strokes  of  heavy  emphasis  without  subordination 
destroy  the  feeling  for  communication.  The  conventional 
touch  is  more  effective  for  radio. 

4.  Over  enunciation  on  the  careful  bits  of  consonants  has 
a  cutting  effect  on  the  listener.  Certain  words  demand  more 
precise  pronunciation  like:  repent eth,  thy,  thine  didst, 
Whithersoever.  To  carry  this  over-precision  to  every  word 
is  to  mar  the  rhythm  of  conversation. 

The  radio  preacher  who  draws  attention  to  his  vocal  per- 
formance defeats  his  purpose.  He  will  lose  the  sense  of 
"gentleness"  which  is  the  gift  of  the  masterful  radio  preacher. 

Language  That  Lulls  or  Inspires 

Radio  preachment  often  loses  force  and  character  be- 
cause the  minister  has  tied  himself  down  to  language  and 
diction  that  is  obscure.  Ideas  become  obscured  in  the  dark 
clouds  of  rhetoric.  Noble  and  reverent  sentiments  are 
weighted  by  Latin  phraseology.  Abstract  prepositions,  rolled 
out  with  solemn  declaration,  leave  the  listener  in  an  abstract 

The  difference  between  a  successful  and  a  mediocre  radio 
preacher  often  lies  in  his  choice  of  words  and  in  his  power 
of  imagery.  Concrete  words  that  suggest  the  visible  object, 
always  are  better  than  abstract  concepts.  Every  word  can  be 
made  to  tell  the  lively  effect.  The  radio  preacher  should 
study  his  sermon  from  the  standpoint  of  its  picture-making 
influence  on  the  listener.  Suggestive  words  and  phrases  call 
up  images  that  are  vivid  and  alive  to  the  listener's  ex- 
perience. Great  moral  truths  are  often  riveted  upon  the  mind 
by  illustrations  that  linger  in  the  memory  long  after  the 
sermon  is  forgotten.  The  deepest  and  most  abstract  things  in 
theology  can  be  made  understandable  over  the  air,  by  this 

THE    CHURCH    OF    THE    AIR  279 

Monotony  is  the  bugbear  of  all  religious  preachers  on  the 
air.  This  is  due  to  a  persistent  abundance  of  strong  stress;  a 
cadence  that  is  over  lofty;  a  quality  of  voice  peculiarly 
tinged  with  super  solemnity.  It  is  a  species  of  elocution, 
long  accepted  and  practiced  in  the  leading  theological  semi- 
naries. Sepulchral  tones  of  exhortation  miss  true  warmth 
and  spiritual  quality.  If  this  speech  pattern  is  continued  over 
a  quarter  of  an  hour,  the  voice  lulls  the  mind  to  drowsiness. 
Organ  music  or  sacred  songs  that  follow  the  sermon  come 
as  a  welcome  relief. 

Does  Radio  Cramp  the  Preacher? 

Many  ministers  believe  that  preaching  is  losing  its  power 
and  vitality  because  of  the  microphone.  The  Reverend  James 
M.  Gillis,  C.S.P.,  editor  of  The  Catholic  World,  in  an  ad- 
dress before  the  Institute  of  Human  Relations,  expresses 
the  opinion  that  broadcast  sermons  in  most  cases  lessen  the 
effect  of  the  minister's  personality  by  half.  "Personal  mag- 
netism," he  said,  "is  required  in  preaching  the  word  vastly 
more  than  in  any  other  form  of  public  speaking." 

It  is  recognized  that  preaching  to  a  visible  congregation 
and  preaching  to  unseen  listeners  are  two  different  ap- 
proaches. Not  every  minister  can  become  efficient  in  both 
arts.  Many  a  preacher,  like  many  a  public  speaker,  becomes 
demagnetized  in  the  presence  of  a  microphone.  Radio 
preaching  imposes  definite  restrictions  which  binds  the  min- 
ister down  to  the  regulations  of  the  network.  Father  Gillis 
protests:  "Religion  is  a  flame,  a  fire,  a  battle.  In  such  a 
world  as  this  the  message  of  true  religion  should  not  be  po- 
lite, inoffensive.  Quite  naturally  radio  corporations  and  spon- 
sors don't  want  disturbers  on  their  program.  They  depre- 
cate conflict  of  religious  opinion.  They  demand  that  radio 
preachers  shall  not  give  offense." 

28o  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

The  radio  minister  can  bring  about  a  baptism  of  spiritual 
enthusiasm  by  studying  the  correct  methods  of  appeal  over 
the  air.  He  should  have  something  to  say  and  say  it  with 
appropriate  voice.  The  voice  that  preaches  the  message  of  the 
Church  should  be  the  noblest  voice  that  it  is  possible  for 
the  denominational  body  to  secure.  His  spirit  should  carry 
over  the  microphone  with  warmth  and  sincerity.  He  should 
have  something  of  the  inspirational  touch  so  that  his  words 
are  impounded  with  ideas  rather  than  sound. 

Radio  demands  a  more  personal  manner  in  religious 
preachment  from  the  vocal  standpoint.  The  approach  should 
be  in  the  more  direct  tone  of  conversation,  varied  by  such 
emotional  changes  as  the  thought  inspires.  If  keyed  in  the 
same  pitch  or  exaggerated  in  melody,  the  religious  message 
often  palls  when  it  should  exalt. 

Empty  Pews  and  Dialed-out  Sermons 

Successful  preaching  is  never  associated  with  empty  pews 
or  with  dialed-out  receivers.  The  success  of  the  radio  minis- 
ter depends  not  only  on  how  he  speaks  but  what  he  says. 
The  problem  of  writing  the  radio  sermon  becomes  the  most 
perplexing  of  the  minister's  tasks.  Some  sharp  criticism 
on  sermon  composition  has  been  made  by  the  ministry 
itself.  Recently,  the  Rev.  Dr.  Frederick  S.  Fleming,  Director 
of  Trinity  Parish,  startled  the  church  world  by  suggesting 
a  moratorium  on  preaching  for  a  period  of  one  or  two  years. 
"The  sermons  of  today,"  he  declared,  "are  for  the  most  part 
a  very  poor  addition  of  topical  homilies,  a  brand  of  religious 
pep  talks  sailing  forth  for  a  transitory  popularity  under  the 
guise  of  being  inspirational.  There  is  practically  no  preach- 
ing worth  the  name  to  be  found." 

If  this  be  true  radio  offers  the  most  powerful  medium  for 
preaching  of  the  higher  type.  So  great  is  the  influence  of  re- 
ligion and  so  powerful  the  influence  of  men  who  speak  from 

THE    CHURCH    OF    THE    AIR  28 1 

their  privileged  position,  that  both  the  context  and  the  man- 
ner of  speaking  should  be  above  the  commonplace. 

What  is  the  predominant  quality  of  successful  preaching? 
The  answer  given  by  the  leading  divines  uses  the  one  word 
"interestingness."  "Our  obvious  trouble,"  avers  Dr.  Fosdick, 
"is  that  the  mediocre  sermon,  even  when  harmless,  is  unin- 
teresting. It  could  as  well  be  unsaid." 

The  minister  has  the  task  of  selecting  an  interesting  theme, 
and  enriching  it  with  illustration  and  application  for  the 
personal  lives  of  his  audience.  Dr.  Fosdick  urges  these  pre- 
cepts on  the  minister  who  would  aspire  to  the  wider  field 
of  broadcasting:  "There  is  nothing  that  people  are  so  in- 
terested in  as  themselves,  their  own  problems  and  the  way 
to  solve  them.  The  fact  is  basic.  No  preaching  that  rejects 
it  can  raise  a  ripple  on  a  congregation.  It  is  the  primary 
starting  point  of  all  successful  speaking,  and  for  once  the  re- 
quirement of  practical  success  and  ideal  helpfulness  coin- 

The  Bishop  of  Bristol  in  a  broadcast  before  the  war  took 
a  hopeful  view  of  radio  preaching.  Religious  broadcasting, 
in  his  opinion,  spreads  an  atmosphere  of  greater  spiritual 
reality.  Radio  has  not  provided  something  in  the  nature 
of  a  brand-new  religion,  but  it  has  exercised  a  harmonizing 
influence  upon  denominational  divisions  within  the  Chris- 
tian Church.  The  formula  in  England  for  religious  broad- 
casting is  much  as  in  America.  Both  countries  are  confronted 
with  congregations  of  the  air,  varied  in  tastes  and  different 
in  opinion.  How  shall  radio  meet  the  situation?  This  is  the 
answer  of  the  Bishop  of  Bristol: 

"The  form  of  service  provided  must  be  such  as  will  satisfy 
older  worshipers,  who  long  to  hear  familiar  melodies  and  to 
receive  traditional  exhortation  and  yet,  at  the  same  time, 
attract  younger  worshipers  who  need  to  have  religious  val- 
ues re-stated  in  terms  of  the  New  World  in  which  they 
are  growing  up." 

282  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

What's  the  Matter  with  the  Radio  Sermon? 

The  application  of  homiletics  to  radio  preaching  appears 
quite  simple.  Perhaps  the  most  successful  radio  preacher  of 
today  is  Dr.  Harry  Emerson  Fosdick  whose  Sunday  message 
over  the  air  is  a  guiding  light  in  the  spiritual  lives  of  hosts 
of  listeners.  He  has  laid  down  several  principles  that  will  be 
helpful  to  the  radio  preacher.  "A  sermon,"  according  to  Dr. 
Fosdick,  "may  begin  in  any  one  of  three  ways.  Two  of  these 
ways  are  wrong.  If  the  sermon  begins  with  a  text,  or  the 
exposition  of  an  idea,  dullness  and  futility  result.  The  other 
way  to  failure  is  to  have  the  genesis  of  the  sermon  in  his  own 

Fosdick  explains  this  type  of  minister  as  one  who  plays 
Sir  Oracle.  "He  is  dogmatic,  assertive,  uncompromising.  He 
flings  out  his  dicta  as  though  to  say  to  his  hearers,  'Take  it  or 
leave  it.'  He  has  settled  the  matter  concerning  which  he  is 
speaking,  and  he  is  telling  us."  Father  Coughlin  often  as- 
sumed this  manner,  indulged  in  unrestrained,  violent  and 
irresponsible  statements.  He  gave  the  impression  of  a  cleric 
who  easily  becomes  intoxicated  by  the  sound  of  his  own 

The  third  and  successful  way  to  create  a  sermon  is  what 
Dr.  Fosdick  calls  "a  cooperative  enterprise"  between  the 
preacher  and  his  congregation.  This  seems  the  most  desir- 
able method  with  the  congregation  of  the  radio  audience. 

The  radio  preacher  who  is  thinking  of  a  real  difficulty 
in  the  lives  of  his  listeners  finds  himself  removed  from  dog- 
matic thinking  because  there  is  a  cooperative  thinking  be- 
tween himself  and  his  audience.  Fosdick's  definition  of 
preaching  emphasizes  the  personal  relationship  of  the  min- 
ister with  the  individual  listener's  own  problems. 

Successful  radio  preaching  holds  a  powerful  interest  for 
the  listener  when  it  is  couched  with  persuasion.  Fosdick's 

THE    CHURCH    OF    THE    AIR  283 

preaching  is  aimed  at  a  transformation  of  personality.  Any 
preacher  who  can  convey  this  subtle  understanding  to  a 
listener  far  removed  from  the  cloistered  walls  of  the  church 
is  a  master  of  the  word  of  God. 

"Preaching  is  wrestling  with  individuals  over  questions  of 
life  and  death,  and  until  that  idea  of  it  commands  a  preach- 
er's mind  and  method,  eloquence  will  avail  him  very  little 
and  theology  not  at  all."  Fosdick  believes  his  technique 
works.  "People  have  literally  come  up  after  the  sermons  not 
to  offer  some  trivial  complaint  but  to  say,  'How  did  you 
know  that  I  was  facing  that  problem  last  week?',  'I  think 
you  understand  my  case.  May  I  have  a  personal  interview 
with  you.'  "  The  real  test  for  any  radio  sermon  should  be 
"How  many  listeners  are  impelled  to  wish  to  see  the  preacher 

The  method  of  the  Master,  measured  in  terms  of  our  com- 
plex age,  serves  today  as  a  model.  He  spoke  to  the  people 
in  their  everyday  language  and  made  religion  as  plain  and 
practical  to  them  as  farming  and  fishing.  His  sermons  were 
always  picturesque,  besprinkled  with  humor,  and  made 
realistic  by  the  use  of  the  parable  and  illustrations,  drawn 
from  all  sources. 

Such  a  method  is  best  adapted  to  the  condition  and  needs 
of  the  hearers  whose  attention  and  interest  was  at  once  cap- 
tured. This  is  precisely  what  radio  sermons  today  demand. 
In  the  ancient  days,  the  Pharisees  and  the  scribes  taught  in 
a  way  that  has  small  relation  to  human  affairs  and  needs. 
"The  fossilized  ecclesiasts,"  says  Dr.  James  H.  Snowden, 
"were  droning  away  over  hairsplitting  questions  of  ortho- 
doxy that  were  not  of  the  least  human  interest  or  use.  The 
simple,  charming  teachings  of  Jesus  came  like  a  fresh  breeze. 
The  people  knew  what  he  was  talking  about  and  were  sur- 
prised that  it  took  hold  of  them  with  such  fascinating  in- 
terest and  power,  exclaiming,  'A  new  teaching!'  " 

284  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

How  the  Radio  Preacher  Can  Lead 

There  are  few  great  radio  preachers  today  who  are  out- 
standing prophets  of  this  generation.  Among  the  more  dis- 
tinguished leaders  are  the  Reverend  Dr.  Harry  Emerson 
Fosdick,  the  Rev.  William  J.  Finn,  Rabbi  Stephen  J.  Wise, 
and  the  Rev.  Daniel  F.  Poling. 

The  way  lies  ahead  for  improvement  in  microphone 
preaching,  so  that  the  personality  of  a  great  mind  impresses 
itself  on  the  listener  with  faith  and  understanding,  with 
sincerity  and  depth  of  conviction,  with  liveliness  of  emotion 
that  is  in  tune  with  common  experience. 

Radio  religion  can  never  take  the  place  of  public  worship. 
The  words  "synagogue"  and  "congregation"  come  from  the 
Greek  and  Latin  words  meaning  "assembly."  The  radio 
listener  is  external  from  the  group  that  listens  in  the  church. 
The  radio  listener  is  not  subject  to  those  same  influences 
which  may  be  possible  in  the  House  of  God.  A  broadcast, 
talk,  or  sermon  may  serve  as  a  signpost  to  point  out  the  way 
to  faith,  but  the  minister's  personal  influence  is  wanting. 
"Preaching  is  not  a  mere  verbal  communication,"  said  the 
Rev.  James  Gillis.  "It  is  a  ministry;  but  how  can  you  minis- 
ter to  a  man  when  you  don't  see  him  and  when  he  is  lolling 
half-dressed  on  the  couch  smoking  his  pipe,  his  attention  di- 
verted from  your  discourse  now  by  the  family  chit-chat,  and 
again  by  the  alluring  Sunday  supplement?" 

The  undeniable  benefits  of  the  radio  ministry,  however, 
are  many.  It  has  strengthened  the  spiritual  teachings  of  the 
church.  It  has  supplied  religious  services  in  localities  where 
the  churches  were  closed  because  of  the  depression.  It  has 
provided  a  spiritual  anchor  to  great  numbers  not  connected 
with  any  specific  faith.  It  has  increased  religious  tolerance. 
Its  ministrations  have  come  to  invalids,  shut-ins,  and  those 
in  remote  places  who  would  otherwise  lack  the  opportunity 
of  partaking  in  religious  worship. 



PROPAGANDA  is  as  old  as  the  ages.  The  new  thing 
about  it  is  the  agency  of  broadcasting.  Radio  is  the 
almost  universal  vehicle  of  politics,  nationalism,  business 
and  trade,  the  world  over. 

Propaganda  defies  exact  definition.  It  is  ideology,  a  prin- 
ciple, a  mode  of  action.  There  is  no  morality  in  propaganda. 
The  sole  test  is  whether  it  succeeds.  Propaganda  is  acting, 
the  doing  of  things.  Education  is  long  range  work,  propa- 
ganda is  immediate:  Education  is  slower. 

Radio  is  believed  to  provide  greater  propaganda  values 
than  the  movies  or  the  printed  page.  Leaflets  and  printed 
matter  may  be  showered  on  the  people  and  never  read.  The 
spoken  word  is  more  effective  than  the  printed  word.  A 
propagandist  on  the  air  rushes  on,  deals  wholly  with  emo- 
tions, and  stays  away  from  cold  facts  as  far  as  possible. 
Listeners  are  not  trained  to  study  the  form  of  an  address 
nor  to  analyze  its  separate  elements.  He  cannot  study  the 
argument  as  from  the  printed  page.  His  emotions  are  fused 
by  the  power  of  oratory.  The  listener  cannot  heckle  a  speaker 
nor  talk  back  at  him.  He  has  the  option  of  turning  him 
off,  but  the  effective  speaker  weaves  a  spell,  slows  down  the 
thinking  processes,  and  makes  men  and  women  behave  like 

The  persistent  repetition  of  doctrine  infiltrates  swiftly 
everywhere.  Governments  and  communities,  through  radio, 
crystallize  opinion  before  the  public  has  had  a  chance  to 
rationalize  the  issues. 

Propaganda  on  the  air  is  here  to  stay.  National  prepared- 
ness includes  not  only  plans  for  battleships  and  aircraft  but 


286  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

also  super-power  broadcasting  stations  that  reach  targets 
across  the  seas.  Nations  have  turned  to  radio  propaganda 
for  the  coordination  of  their  activities  both  within  and 
beyond  their  borders.  Without  radio  the  course  of  empire 
may  be  held  in  the  balance. 

H.  V.  Kaltenborn  once  answered  a  hypothetical  question 
about  radio  as  an  instrument  of  propaganda.  Said  the  com- 
mentator: "If  Ethiopia  had  been  equipped  with  radio,  Haile 
Selassie  could  have  drawn  his  empire  together;  could  have 
talked  to  all  his  different  chieftains.  Perhaps  the  outcome 
would  have  been  different." 

Multi-Branched  Radio  Propaganda 

Little  study  has  been  given  to  the  matter  of  classifying 
propaganda  programs  on  the  air.  The  following  groups  are 
merely  suggestive  and  are  not  mutually  exclusive: 

1.  Promotion  or  publicity  propaganda.  Every  hour  on  the 
hour,  there  is  a  specialized  promotion  on  the  air  which 
brings  the  listeners  the  pet  policies  or  special  views  of  a  wide 
variety  of  organizations.  These  include  public  service  cor- 
porations, boards  of  commerce  and  trade,  public  and  quasi- 
public  institutions.  Such  propaganda  bespeaks  every  variety 
of  vested  interest.  Special  relations  counselors  are  employed 
to  create  the  persuasive  type  of  radio  appeal. 

2.  Civic  propaganda.  These  appeals  are  general  and  em- 
phasize   the    advantages    which    come    to    the    community 
through  public  action  or  civic  enterprise.  Thus  the  State 
of  New  York  Milk  Control  Board  uses  the  air  in  a  health 
program  designed  to  boost  the  sale  of  milk  and  help  the 
farmer.  Appeals  may  be  made  to  civic,  patriotic  and  com- 
munity pride  and  lead  to  some  specific  form  of  participation 
such  as  cooperating  in  the  New  York  World's  Fair.   One 
typical  example:  In  1939  Carl  Byoir  made  an  appeal  for  the 
A  &  P  stores  in  defense  of  the  chain  store  system  on  the 


General  Electric  WGY  (Schenectady)  Farm  Forum,  frankly 
announcing  himself  as  a  paid  propagandist.  In  every  City 
Hall  and  State  Capitol,  propaganda  is  operated  by  every 
conceivable  vested  interest. 

3.  Profit  propaganda.  Such  programs  are  directed  by 
business  enterprises,  organizations  and  individuals  who  hope 
to  reap  a  profit  directly  or  indirectly  by  a  commodity  or 
service  offered  for  sale.  Included  in  such  programs  are  those 
designed  to  win  markets  and  trade  control.  Special  utility 
companies,  organizations  like  the  National  Electric  Light 
Association  and  the  National  Association  of  Manufacturers 
find  radio  the  best  medium  for  their  special  propaganda. 
They  have  ample  funds  to  devote  to  radio  which  cannot 
be  matched  by  the  consumers'  and  workers'  groups.  In  1937, 
the  NAM  publicity  fund  grew  to  be  over  eight  hundred 
thousand  dollars.  The  money  spent  for  propaganda  included 
radio  features  such  as  "The  American  Family  Robinson" 
heard  over  two  hundred  and  seventy  stations.  The  MMA 
spent  over  two  million  dollars  in  1940  on  public  information 
for  a  study  of  text  books  throughout  the  nation  so  that  the 
members  might  move  against  any  that  might  be  found 
prejudicial  to  our  form  of  government.  Vice-President  Wal- 
lace said,  when  Secretary  of  Agriculture:  "They  (the  busi- 
ness men)  have  been  led  by  their  plutogogues  (propaganda 
men)  to  believe  that  government  rules  of  the  game  should 
be  loaded  in  their  favor. 

Commercial  propaganda  is  more  of  a  science  than  ethical 
and  political  propaganda.  Sponsors  have  become  experts  at 
selling  goods  over  the  air.  They  know  the  value  of  repeti- 
tion. They  play  on  the  snobbish  instincts  of  humanity, 
emphasize  the  importance  of  buying  to  meet  the  demands 
of  social  conformity.  They  play  on  fears  of  every  kind,— 
fear  of  halitosis,  fear  of  obesity,  fear  of  financial  loss,  and 

Commercial  propaganda  is  agreeable  to  the  masses  be- 

288  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

cause  it  encourages  people  to  satisfy  their  cravings  and 
offers  them  a  possible  escape  from  their  physical  pains  and 
discomforts.  When  listeners  are  asked  to  buy  luxuries  or 
to  choose  between  two  brands  of  a  necessary  commodity, 
there  may  be  nothing  serious  at  stake.  Danger  may  arise 
if  the  listener  allows  himself  to  be  influenced  by  sales  propa- 
ganda when  physical  cures  are  concerned. 

4.  Friendship  and  peace  propaganda.  This  is  an  institu- 
tionalized propaganda  undertaken  by  some  associations  to 
create  friendly  relations  and  mutual  understanding  or  to 
explain  the  causes  of  discord.  The  coat  of  arms  of  the  British 
Broadcasting    Corporation    displays    the    idealistic    slogan, 
"Nation  Shall  Speak  Peace  Unto  Nation."  Under  this  classi- 
fication  comes   the   exchange   of  programs   of   the   British 
Broadcasting  Corporation  and  those  of  the  American  net- 
works. Other  types  of  friendship  broadcasts  are  those  that 
seek  to  lure  the  tourist  and  extend  a  sort  of  personalized 
welcome  to  the  prospective  traveler.   Such  programs  play 
upon  the  imagination  of  the  listener  by  means  of  enchanting 
songs,  romantic  tales,  adventure  dramatization  and  talks  that 
extol  scenic  beauties  and  delightful  living  conditions. 

5.  Reformist  propaganda  works  for  limited  changes  in  the 
social  order.  It  seeks  primarily  to  modify  conditions  to  con- 
form to  a  better  standard  of  morals.  Thus  an  attack  may 
be  made  over  the  air  on  bad  housing  conditions,  the  abuse 
of  WPA  funds,  neglect  of  education  and  the  like.  Reformist 
propaganda  is  concerned  with  bringing  about  some  change 
in  the  existing  political,  economic  or  social  structure. 

6.  War  propaganda.  This  is  necessary  in  wartime  to  arouse 
and  intensify  animosity  against  the  enemy  and  to  attract 
mutual  support.  The  national  hatred  is  mobilized  by  pres- 
sure groups,   and   the   enemy   is   represented  as   menacing, 
aggressive  violators   of  moral   and  conventional   standards. 
Even  music  is  enlisted  in  the  cause  of  war  propaganda. 


Totalitarian  leaders  order  only  heroic  and  martial  strains 
be  played, — no  dance  or  comedy  programs. 

7.  Peace  propaganda.  Advocates  for  peace  exercise  power- 
ful   radio    propaganda    campaigns.    In    the    event    of    war 
they    would    probably    be    silenced.    Network    stations    are 
not  prone  to  refuse  requests  of  organized  peace  societies 
for  free  time  on  the  air.  The  National  Peace  Conference 
reports  that  during  the  first  five  months  of  1937  local  stations 
carried  one  thousand  three  hundred  and  eighty-six  peace 
programs.  Both  NBC  and  CBS  carried  the  regular  peace 
broadcasts  over  the  networks.  From  one  hundred  and  fifty 
to  two  hundred  local  stations  broadcast  a  weekly  service  for 
World  Peaceways  and  the  League  of  Nations  Association. 

8.  Revolutionary  propaganda.  New  regimes  are  particu- 
larly dependent  on  the  use  of  radio  for  the  acquisition  and 
consolidation  of  power.   Radio  as  a  medium   for  political 
and  military  propaganda  is  effective  when  one  group  within 
a  country  seizes  control  of  a  government  from  another  group. 

The  first  goal  of  all  revolutionists  is  to  capture  the  radio 
station  of  the  party  in  power.  The  Spanish  revolutionists 
seized  the  throne  and  Alfonso's  wireless  station  at  the  same 

In  a  recent  address  in  Berlin  Dr.  Goebbels,  Minister  of 
Propaganda,  frankly  exposed  the  "capture  of  the  wireless" 
in  1933  by  the  Nazis — who  had  previously  been  vigorously 
excluded  from  its  use. 

"When  the  Fiihrer  was  called  to  power  in  the  midday 
hours  of  January  30,  1933,"  says  Dr.  Goebbels,  "the  historic 
fact  was  communicated  to  the  German  people  by  wireless. 
An  historic  event  had  occurred.  A  revolution  had  begun. 
Only  a  few  hours  later  the  revolutionary  masses  rolled 
through  the  streets  of  Berlin  and  passed  through  the  Wil- 
helmstrasse  before  the  Reich  President  and  the  Fiihrer.  All 
Germany  was  in  turmoil.  Only  Broadcasting  House  in  the 
Masuren  Allee  lay  still — far  from  the  noise  of  the  city,  with- 

2 90  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

out  light,  not,  indeed,  without  staff,  but  without  leaders. 
The  latter,  after  closing  down,  had  gone  home  in  the  accus- 
tomed belief  that  they  had  done  their  duty." 

And  further:  "At  that  point  revolutionary  National- 
Socialists,  without  office  or  permission,  entered  the  Broad- 
casting House,  loaded  microphones  and  apparatus  on  to 
taxicabs,  motored  to  the  Reich  Chancery,  and  from  there 
enabled  the  German  people  to  share  through  the  ether  in 
the  capital's  national  upheaval.  Broadcasting  had  become  for 
the  first  time  political." 

The  political  control  of  German  broadcasting  has  re- 
mained complete.  All  radio  transmitters  are  owned  and 
operated  by  the  German  post-office,  with  programs  supplied 
by  the  German  Broadcasting  Company,  itself  government- 
owned.  From  his  Berlin  office,  the  Minister  of  Propaganda 

In  his  autobiographical  work,  "The  Struggle  for  Berlin," 
Goebbels  coldly  states:  "Propaganda  in  itself  has  no  funda- 
mental method.  It  has  only  one  purpose, — the  conquest  of 
the  masses.  Every  means  that  serves  this  end  is  good." 

German  propaganda  includes  the  organization  of  the 
population  into  a  listening  machine.  In  1935,  the  govern- 
ment issued  millions  of  "Peoples  Receivers,"  cheap  receiving 
sets  which  the  industry  was  compelled  to  build.  A  "Labor 
Front  Receiver"  was  installed  in  factories  and  in  business 
premises  for  collective  use.  Each  of  the  thirty-nine  Nazi 
party  Gaue  (regions)  has  a  Gaufunkwart  or  district  radio 
officer.  The  one  thousand  districts  of  Germany  are  each 
under  the  direction  of  a  subordinate  radio  official.  When  the 
Berlin  office  makes  a  decree  of  community  reception,  this 
army  of  radio  lieutenants  gets  busy  and  every  factory,  public 
square  and  school  is  provided  with  receivers  and  amplifiers. 
It  is  estimated  that  about  three-quarters  of  the  German 
people  listen  in. 


Government  Propaganda 

The  administration's  use  of  radio  for  propaganda  is  a 
necessary  part  of  any  democratic  system.  Public  questions 
must  be  presented  to  the  people  with  information  and  argu- 
ment. The  President  and  his  Cabinet  constantly  use  the  air. 
The  NRA  was  "sold"  to  the  people  by  the  aid  of  the  loud- 
speaker in  the  home.  Various  government  departments  have 
exploited  their  achievements  through  dramatizations  and 
addresses  by  key  officials.  The  use  of  the  networks  is  freely 
offered  to  members  of  Congress,  to  fortify  administration 
appeal  or  to  set  in  motion  opposite  points  of  view. 

The  President's  "fireside  chats"  are  regarded  as  quasi- 
propaganda,  quiet,  amiable,  and  pervasive.  Some  publicists 
like  George  E.  Sokolsky,  believe  that  the  President  by  the 
use  of  radio  developed  a  mass  pressure  upon  Congress,  which 
made  the  seventy-fourth  Congress  a  rubber  stamp.  Radio 
exerts  its  powerful  pressure  upon  the  public  which  in  turn 
forces  pressure  upon  Congress. 

It  is  difficult  to  determine  whether  government  officials 
speak  as  private  individuals  or  as  servants  of  the  State. 
Elected  or  appointed  officials  often  step  into  the  domain  of 
propaganda.  Critics  of  the  administration  may  fight  back 
with  counter-propaganda,  but  this  is  only  possible  if  they  are 
granted  access  to  the  microphone. 

Serious  measures  were  taken  by  the  Federal  Communica- 
tions Commission  to  expand  radio  programs  directed  from 
the  United  States  to  Latin  America.  The  means  were  at 
hand.  Four  channels  had  been  set  aside  for  the  use  of  the 
Americas  by  international  agreement  in  1931.  It  was  not 
until  February  19,  1938,  however,  that  the  hearing  was  held 
which  allocated  two  of  these  short  wave  frequencies  to  the 
General  Electric  Company  over  Station  2WXAB,  with 
powerful  one  hundred  kw.  broadcasts.  The  other  short- 
wave frequencies  were  allocated  to  the  Worldwide  Broad- 


casting  Corporation  of  Boston,  whose  Station  WIXAL  is 
also  high  powered.  Rigid  conditions  were  laid  out  for  the 
use  of  newly  allocated  frequencies.  Commercial  and  adver- 
tising announcements  are  completely  banned. 

General  Electric  Company's  station  began  its  Latin 
American  programs  on  March  4,  1938,  the  major  portion 
of  its  broadcasts  being  in  the  Portuguese  language. 

The  programs  of  the  World  Broadcasting  Corporation 
are  directed  to  Latin  America  five  times  a  week.  It  is  a  non- 
profit organization  subsidized  by  a  grant  from  the  Rocke- 
feller Foundation  and  its  charter  indicates  its  altruism:  "To 
produce  and  broadcast  programs  of  a  cultural,  educational 
and  artistic  and  spiritual  nature  and  to  arrange  for  the 
interchange  of  constructive  radio  programs  throughout  the 

The  Latin  American  programs  of  the  National  Broadcast- 
ing Station  and  the  Columbia  Broadcasting  System  both 
operate  under  an  experimental  license.  These  experimental 
programs  cost  the  companies  over  $100,000  yearly.  The 
expense  is  charged  off  to  prestige,  public  and  patriotic 
service  and  good  will  in  Washington.  Besides  there  was 
always  a  hope  that  the  FCC  may  toss  a  juicy  plum  into  the 
lap  of  the  networks  by  allowing  short  wave  advertising. 

Frank  E.  Mason,  vice  president  of  the  NBC,  testified  at 
the  FCC  investigation  in  1938  that  the  networks'  Latin 
American  broadcasts  exceeded  those  of  other  nations.  In 
1938  they  totaled  sixty-three  hours  a  week,  compared  with 
fifty-six  for  Germany,  nine  hours  and  fifty-five  minutes  for 
Italy  and  seven  hours  for  Japan. 

The  United  States  disavows  propaganda  by  radio.  The 
FCC  would  have  all  programs  cultural  and  educational. 
Carleton  Beals,  however,  finds  our  broadcasts  larded  with 
propaganda  and  a  steady  drone  for  the  Hull  reciprocity 
treatises.  "Our  broadcasts,"  he  says,  "even  if  truly  educa- 
tional, inevitably  become  propaganda  for  a  way  of  life,  the 


American  way  of  life.  They  seek  a  purpose  to  create  friend- 
ship, to  sell  goods  to  bar  other  foreign  competition." 

The  danger  is  that  the  Latins  in  the  long  run  may  become 
inimical  to  our  propaganda  as  we  are  to  the  foreign  propa- 
ganda dinned  in  our  ears.  "For  Latin  America,"  warns  Beals, 
"democracy  is  still  a  revolutionary  concept,  capable  of  tum- 
bling down  governments.  To  advocate  it  is  propaganda.  It 
is  propaganda,  far  more  revolutionary  there,  far  more  an 
alien  doctrine  than  either  totalitarianism  or  communism." 

Shall  the  Government  Step  In? 

In  the  war  of  propaganda,  fears  grip  the  broadcasters  that 
the  Government  will  erect  and  maintain  stations  of  its  own. 
Many  publicists  urge  that  the  Government  take  active 
measures  to  meet  propaganda  by  propaganda.  The  efforts 
of  private  companies  to  cooperate  with  the  government  in 
sending  of  programs  to  South  America  is  deemed  com- 
mendable, but  the  government  is  put  in  the  position  of 
asking  favors  from  the  stations  which  owe  their  very  exist- 
ence to  its  licensing. 

What  the  networks  fear  most  is  the  first  opening  wedge 
into  the  system  of  private  control  of  broadcasting.  Bills  for 
the  establishment  of  government  stations  have  been  intro- 
duced into  Congress.  One  of  these  measures  directed  the 
Secretary  of  the  Navy  to  construct  a  government  radio  sta- 
tion at  Washington  with  the  Commissioner  of  Education  in 
charge  of  programs.  Congressman  Celler  in  1937  urged  the 
passage  of  his  bill  which  provided  that  a  government  station 
be  designed  for  national  and  Pan-American  service,  for  the 
use  of  the  President,  members  of  the  Cabinet,  bureaus  and 
departments,  and  for  the  interpretation  of  the  various  gov- 
ernmental activities  by  bureaus  and  departments. 

The  handwriting  of  the  government  is  not  yet  on  the  wall, 
but  cold  chills  run  down  the  spine  of  private  stations.  They 

294  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

paint  a  sad  picture  of  the  mess  we  will  get  into  when 
broadcasting  at  Washington  becomes  the  tool  of  politics. 
There  are  hosts  of  supporters  for  a  government  station  who 
claim  that  a  government  station  in  reserve,  would  take  the 
haughtiness  out  of  those  private  broadcasters  who  show  the 
slightest  sign  of  discriminating  against  the  party  in  power. 

Sponsor  Propaganda 

Propaganda  has  crept  into  commercial  programs  with 
alarming  frequency.  The  policy  of  the  networks,  it  is  true, 
is  not  to  sell  time  for  propaganda  of  any  sort.  Sponsor  prop- 
aganda is  voiced  by  a  spokesman  who  may  be  a  newspaper- 
man, an  ex-minister,  a  news  commentator,  a  public  relations 
counsel — a  plutogogue  as  Prof.  T.  V.  Smith  of  the  Univer- 
sity of  Chicago  chose  to  call  the  hired  voice. 

The  crowning  example  of  suave  and  subtle  propaganda 
is  the  Ford  Sunday  Hour.  William  A.  Cameron,  one  time 
editor  of  the  Dearborn  "Independent,"  takes  to  the  air  be- 
tween symphony  numbers  to  bespeak  the  mind  of  Henry 

Advertising  is  the  oldest  form  of  propaganda.  It  has  de- 
veloped concurrently  with  the  rise  of  the  press  and  the 
expansion  of  commerce,  but  the  methods  of  propaganda 
are  employed  in  other  fields  today,  especially  in  politics.  The 
devices  are  borrowed  from  commercial  advertising.  The" 
newspaper  advertisement,  the  placard,  the  demonstration, 
the  political  speech  with  all  the  new  methods  of  advertising, 
are  all  employed  to  persuade  the  consumer  to  buy  new 
goods  or  services  which  have  been  offered  to  him. 

On  the  NBC  network,  the  "Voice  of  General  Motors" 
has  been  heard  not  only  extolling  automobiles,  but  ven- 
turing forth  into  matters  of  employment,  wage  levels,  and 
the  "American  system."  On  the  CBS  network,  the  Chase  Na- 
tional Bank,  cooperated  with  forty-five  affiliated  financial 


institutions,  provided  a  business  forum  enlivened  with 
orchestral  music. 

John  T.  Flynn  in  the  Town  Meeting  of  the  Air  in  April, 
1938,  described  the  insidious  effect  of  such  programs  in  this 
wise:  "On  Sunday  evening  the  family  is  gathered  in  the 
living  room  when  into  their  midst  float  the  strains  of  music 
from  a  great  symphony  orchestra  .  .  .  then  as  the  strains 
of  some  well-loved  old  song  fade  from  the  air  and  the  family 
sits  around,  thoroughly  softened  up,  there  floats  into  the 
room  and  into  the  unguarded  chambers  of  their  minds 
the  voice  of  the  propagandist.  For  five  or  ten  minutes  the 
planned  infection  flows  into  the  monster.  It  tells  of  the 
romantic  sage  of  business,  the  great  achievements,  the  mas- 
sive wisdom,  the  matchless  courage,  the  civilizing  alchemy 
of  the  great  business  man  as  distinguished  from  the  selfish 
and  narrow  ignorance  and  wickedness  of  the  Government — 
the  great-souled  business  leader  compared  with  the  small- 
minded  and  vicious  senator." 

Let  us  examine  a  typical  passage  from  a  recent  "sermon- 
ette"  of  William  A.  Cameron.  In  reviewing  the  historical 
progression  of  America's  fears,  Cameron  said: 

"The  uncurbed  mobs,  the  wild-cat  money,  the  plagues, 
the  sectional  divisions,  all  have  passed  away.  They  were 
temporal.  The  schools,  inventions,  liberties,  the  social  prog- 
ress have  remained, — they  are  spiritual.  And  that  is  what  is 
occurring  today  if  we  had  eyes  to  see.  The  best  is  yet  to  be, 
the  last  for  which  the  first  was  made.  Here  is  the  factual 
foundation  of  our  faith  in  the  ever-dawning  future." 

The  average  listener  will  not  submit  such  utterances  to 
analysis.  He  will  be  overcome  by  generalities.  The  thinking 
person  will  closely  evaluate.  He  will  want  a  definition  of 
such  lofty  words  as  "liberties,"  "social  progress,"  "spiritual." 
The  underfed  and  unemployed  will  hardly  share  Cameron's 
concept  of  "our  faith  in  the  ever-dawning  future." 

John  Vernon  in  New  Masses  has  noted  that  Cameron 

2g6  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

never  comes  out  openly  against  anything  but  takes  many  a 
backhanded  slap  at  the  present  administration.  'Tor  in- 
stance," says  Vernon,  "on  March  13^  1938,  Cameron 
asserted  'Leg  irons  must  be  taken  off  the  nation's  productive 
forces.'  In  other  words  let's  take  the  country  out  of  the 
hands  of  Washington  and  entrust  it  once  more  to  the  tender 
mercies  of  the  bankers." 

Belligerent  Short  Waves 

The  dream  of  radio  as  a  powerful  force  for  international 
good  will  is  engraved  on  the  legend  over  the  portals  of  the 
British  Broadcasting  Corporation:  "Nation  Shall  Speak 
Peace  Unto  Nation."  Yet  the  "Radio  War"  goes  on  inces- 
santly, day  and  night.  Impartial  observers  estimate  that  more 
than  half  the  programs  sent  out  by  the  totalitarian  states  are 
open  or  veiled  propaganda.  The  air  is  belligerent  with 
polyglot  communication. 

The  entrance  of  the  United  States  into  Latin  American 
broadcasting  can  be  traced  to  radio  propaganda  by  foreign 
countries.  Italy  has  consistently  used  the  radio  to  sway  the 
sentiment  of  the  Moslem  world  of  North  Africa,  Egypt, 
Arabia,  Transjordania,  Iraq  and  Palestine.  Broadcasts  came 
in  Arabic  from  the  Bari  station.  Their  purpose  was  to  under- 
mine Britain's  prestige  and  influence  among  millions  of 
Moslems  who  had  hitherto  looked  upon  the  King  of 
England  as  the  defender  of  the  faith.  Mussolini  boldly  pro- 
claimed himself  as  the  Protector  of  Islam.  Radio  "news" 
was  invented,  falsely  accusing  the  British  of  using  poison  gas 
on  the  Arabs. 

Britain  sprang  to  its  own  defense  with  a  radio  counter- 
offensive.  A  new  language  policy  was  instituted.  Previous  to 
1937  the  British  had  insisted  on  talking  to  the  world  in 
English.  Close  study  was  given  to  the  problem  by  the  Ulls- 
water  Committee  which  reported  that  "in  the  interest  of 


the  British  prestige  and  influence  in  world  affairs,  we  think 
that  the  appropriate  use  of  language  other  than  English 
should  be  encouraged."  And  so  on  March  15,  1937,  the 
British  put  into  practice  the  propaganda  language  policy  of 
European  states.  "Say  it  in  the  language  of  the  country  you 
are  aiming  at."  The  forty  million  inhabitants  of  Brazil  were 
regaled  in  Portuguese  and  the  other  forty-five  million  in- 
habitants of  South  America  in  Spanish.  Special  announcers 
handled  the  programs  in  Arabic  to  the  fourteen  million 
Moslems  of  the  Near  East. 

The  British,  learning  from  experience,  sought  to  make 
their  programs  attractive.  Italy's  crooner  called  Abdul  Wahab 
held  public  fancy  as  the  Bing  Crosby  of  the  East.  It  was 
necessary  to  employ  showmanship  and  match  him  with  a 
Picadilly  dance  band  and  various  Moslem  singers.  As  an 
escape  from  the  usual  practice,  the  British  decided  to  intro- 
duce a  straight  news  service  in  several  languages. 

British  officials  lean  to  the  opinion  that  programs  aimed 
directly  at  propaganda  defeat  their  own  purpose.  A  recent 
report  to  the  International  Broadcasting  Council  at  Geneva 
frankly  admits:  "The  reactions  of  the  listener  to  what  he 
suspects  to  be  propaganda  or  sectarian  views  are  not  only 
negative,  but  fundamentally  detrimental  to  the  cause  to 
which  it  is  desired  to  attract  or  force  his  opinion." 

Italy  and  Germany  were  the  first  to  beam  their  short 
waves  to  South  America  in  order  to  "entertain"  the  re- 
publics. The  German  strategy  is  to  arrange  with  the  South 
American  nations  to  intercept  the  short  waves  rebroadcast 
so  that  the  program  comes  over  the  local  station  loud  and 
distinct.  Carlton  Beale  in  "The  Coming  Struggle  for  Latin 
America"  makes  the  astounding  revelation  about  ninety  per 
cent  of  Guatemala's  programs  are  Berlin  broadcasts.  Ger- 
many, Italy,  and  Japan  followed  up  its  broadcasts  with  offers 
of  free  books,  pamphlets,  news  service,  radio  sets,  actors 
and  exchange  professors.  German  directional  transmitters  in 

298  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

operation  since  1934  have  the  greatest  clarity  of  reception 
and  represent  most  advanced  technical  improvement. 

The  purpose  of  these  broadcasts  is  an  open  secret.  Their 
primary  aim  is  to  prove  that  republics  are  decadent  and  that 
society  is  depending  on  the  new  totalitarian  order  for  its 
salvation.  The  lure  of  trade  and  security  is  held  out  with 
"Sure  Fire"  programs  that  suit  the  taste  of  the  South  Ameri- 
can Republics.  As  a  groundwork  for  the  sale  of  goods,  the 
Germans  first  sell  ideas  to  Latin  Americans.  The  German 
voice  solemnly  declares  that  Germany  leads  the  world  in 
cultural  and  industrial  achievements. 

Propaganda  boldly  emphasizes  the  thesis  that  "Democratic 
nations  are  crumbling."  Nazism  is  the  salvation  of  the 
world.  America  is  honeycombed  with  strikes.  We  have  no 
strikes  in  Germany.  If  you  order  goods  from  us  you  will  not 
only  get  a  superior  product  but  you  will  be  sure  to  get  them. 
Take  no  chances." 

In  addition,  German  propaganda  is  designed  to  reach 
German-speaking  people  within  foreign  territory.  Germans 
in  the  United  States  and  Latin  America  are  cajoled  to  or- 
ganize to  perpetuate  the  Nazi  creed.  Contact  is  made  with 
the  foreign  representatives  of  the  Fiihrer  in  each  country. 

Wooing  Latin  America 

Our  country  has  felt  uneasy  about  the  invasion  of  Ger- 
many in  the  Western  Hemisphere.  To  this  end  our  enormous 
defense  program  has  been  instituted.  The  Germans  believe 
that  the  Monroe  Doctrine  is  just  a  paper  barricade  against 
radio  programs  that  bounce  through  the  loud  speaker  with 
seductive  music. 

How  to  Be  a  Radio  Propagandist 

Propaganda  on  the  air  is  not  an  exact  science  and  so  the 
propagandist  is  not  always  sure  that  he  is  following  the  right 


path.  However,  experience  has  evolved  certain  new  radio 
techniques.  The  subject  is  being  delved  into  by  new  various 

The  Institute  for  Propaganda  Analysis  in  New  York  City 
under  the  direction  of  Prof.  Clyde  R.  Miller  has  made  clear 
many  of  the  major  devices  of  radio  propaganda.  We  select 
from  radio's  bag  of  tricks  a  few  of  the  more  widely  used 
methods,  some  of  them  morally  indefensible. 

1.  Take   advantage   of   the   psychological   principle   that 
people  in  the  mass  are  poor  judges  of  their  own  interests. 
They  are  ready  to  flitter  from  one  proposition  to  another 
without  reasoning.  Radio  is  seductive.  It  can  hold  out  prom- 
ise to  lure  men  and  women  with  a  siren  song.  On  the  promise 
of  a  new  security  they  are  tempted  to  fling  away  the  old  to 
which  they  have  clung  with  fears.  For  quick  results,  search 
for   signs   of   preferences   of   your   listeners   which   do   not 
require  deliberation.  Aldous  Huxley  thus  analyzes  the  weak- 
ness   of    men:    "Dictatorial    propaganda,    which    is    always 
nationalistic,    or    revolutionary    propaganda,    is    acceptable 
because  it  encourages  men  and  women  to  give  free  rein  to 
their   pride,    vanity   and   other   egotistical    tendencies    and 
because   it   provides   them   with    psychological    devices    for 
overcoming  their  sense  of  inferiority." 

2.  Attach  to  your  appeal  some  slogan  which  in  words  is 
equivalent  to  a  goal  symbol.  The  slogan  becomes  indelibly 
written  on  the  mind.  The  Spanish  Loyalist,  "La  Pasionaria," 
during  the  siege  of  Madrid,  brought  in  thousands  of  volun- 
teers with  her  plea,  "Better  to  die  on  one's  feet  than  live 
on  one's  knees." 

3.  Repetition  is  the  mother  of  success.  Keep  on  repeating 
your  slogan  or  goal  symbol.  This  will  not  only  realign  your 
listeners  to  a  new  scheme  of  behavior  but  will  create  in  them 
a  zeal  that  is  infectious.  Dr.  Goebbels  lays  down  this  for- 
mula: "The  intellectuals  say  that  the  more  often  a  theme 
is  repeated  the  less  interested  the  people.  This  is  not  true. 


When  I  possess  the  talent  to  find  even  more  Draconic  and 
sharper  arguments,  then  the  public  will  not  lose  interest.  On 
the  contrary,  the  interest  will  increase." 

4.  Broadcast  news  in  the  language  of  the  country  to  which 
your  short  waves  are  directed.   Germany  uses  a  cultured 
Oxford  voice  to  get  its  point  across.  Remember  that  Italy 
broadcasts   regularly   in   fifteen   languages   including   Hin- 
dustani, Arabic,  Portuguese,  Hungarian  and  Japanese. 

5.  Broadcast  lessons  in  your  native  language  to  the  coun- 
try to  which  your  appeal  is  directed.  Brazil  can  tune  in  on 
lessons  in  the  Italian  language  coming  from  Rome;  and  on 
German  lessons  from  Berlin. 

6.  Minimize.  Exaggerate.  Interpret  a  local  strike  in  the 
United  States  as  a  symbol  of  a  major  revolution;  the  draining 
of  a  swamp  is  evidence  of  the  "restoration  of  the  grandeur 
of  the  Roman  Empire." 

7.  Make   your  news   broadcasts   misleading,   by   sending 
them  out  incomplete  and  with   omissions.   Newpapers   in 
Latin   America   which    cannot   afford   the    expensive   wire 
service  regularly  pick  up  German  and  Italian  broadcasts  of 
the  news  free.  Hence  it  is  important  to  add  Hitler's  sauce 
and  Mussolini's  spice  to  the  tidbits  that  are  offered.  There 
is  no  way  to  stop  the  static  from  "frying"  the  waves  unless 
the  transmitter  is  destroyed. 

8.  Attack  the  middle  from  both  ends  at  the  same  time. 
The   journalist,   Chester   T.    Crowell,   in   a   survey   of   air 
propaganda  for  Collier's  Weekly,  gives  this  example:  "The 
German  Broadcast  represents  Uncle  Sam  as  a  raging  and 
dangerous  imperialist  with  sinister  purposes  toward  Latin 
America  but  he  is  also  a  very  sick  man  with  the  virus  of 
Russian  Communism  in  his  veins  and  sometimes  he  is  suf- 
fering from  incipient  death." 

9.  Blanket    foreign    broadcasts    that    smack    of    counter- 
propaganda.  Both  the  Russians  and  the  Germans  delight  in 
this  game.  Broadcasts  from  Moscow  in  the  German  language 


are  blotted  out  by  Berlin,  and  Russia  does  the  same  to  pro- 
grams in  Russian  coming  from  Berlin.  Germany  has  been 
accused  of  putting  the  damper  on  American  programs 
directed  to  Latin  America. 

A  German  trick  is  to  fudge  a  bit  toward  the  frequency 
of  an  English  channel,  just  as  an  English  news  broadcast  is 
coming  to  a  close,  and  pick  up  where  the  Englishman  stops. 
The  voice  of  the  German  broadcaster  will  be  as  English  as 
that  of  the  original  speaker;  consequently  the  listener  might 
readily  assume  that  he  was  still  listening  to  Daventry. 

10.  Mobilize  national  hatreds  for  war  propaganda.  This 
is   the   "name-calling"   device  which   appeals   to   hates  and 
fear.  Represent  the  enemy,  actual  or  menacing,  as  a  mur- 
derous aggressor,  a  violator  of  humanity  and  international 
morals.  Maintain  this  hostility  by  an  assurance  of  ultimate 
victory  and  represent  all  of  your  allies  strenuously  aiding 
in  your  course  and  protecting  common  values.  This  will  help 
in  preserving  friendly  relations  and  will  keep  the  fire  of  zeal 
burning  in  those  countries  that  lend  a  helping  hand.  Broad- 
casting is  often  the  one  means  of  the  mobilization  of  senti- 
ment that  is  cheaper  than  bribery,  violence  or  other  control 
techniques.   War  propaganda  calls   for  cooperation   of  the 
whole  population  as  a  military  unit  in  action.  Radio  appeals 
along  these  lines  emphasize  the  need  for  the  physical  and 
moral  support  of  the  masses  for  national  self-preservation. 

11.  Make  use  of  the  "card-stacking"  device  of  Dr.  Goeb- 
bels  which  makes  it  impossible  to  have  anything  said  over 
the  air  except  what  the  Government  wishes  to  have  said. 

12.  Make  use  of  the  "plain  folks"  strategy.  Hitler  and  the 
Nazi  leaders  are  represented  as  "men  of  the  people"  and  the 
Nazi  ideals  are  portrayed  as  the  salvation  of  the  masses. 

13.  Employ  the  "testimonial"  subterfuge.  Nothing  is  right 
which  Hitler  does  not  approve  and  whatever  he  sanctions 
cannot  be  wrong. 

14.  At  the  proper  moment,  resort  to  the  "transfer  trick" 

3O2  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

to  confer  reverence  and  glorify  esteem  upon  the  leader  of 
your  principles.  Thus  Hitler,  the  former  sign-painter,  is  the 
"man  sent  from  Heaven." 

15.  Appeal  to  the  historic  traditions  and  the  racial  purity 
of  your  people.  Denounce  the  former  government  as  insti- 
tuted by  communists,  radicals  and  Jews. 

It  is  thus  seen  that  the  task  of  the  radio  propagandist 
is  to  achieve  a  goal  by  fair  means  or  foul.  The  goal  need  not 
immediately  be  exposed.  The  unchanging  aim  of  such  propa- 
ganda is  to  intensify  attitudes  favorable  to  his  purpose, 
to  reverse  attitudes,  to  win  the  indifferent  or  at  least  to 
prevent  a  group  or  section  from  breaking  out  in  antagonism. 
This  is  the  point  where  the  creative  genius  of  the  radio 
propagandist  is  tested.  He  must  be  a  producer  in  the  strictest 
sense  and  be  able  to  create  those  programs  that  will  best 
accomplish  his  ends. 

The  Battle  for  Thought  Control 

The  Japanese  prefer  to  call  their  combination  of  censor- 
ship and  propaganda  "thought  control."  Because  radio 
propaganda  works  adroitly  on  human  nature  in  the  raw,  it 
has  become  an  important  agency  in  thought  control  of  whole 
populations.  The  love  of  power,  according  to  Bertram  Rus- 
sell, is  a  normal  part  of  human  nature  responsible  for  this 
inordinate  use  of  propaganda. 

Dr.  Goebbels  holds  the  thinking  capacity  of  the  average 
man  in  contempt.  He  justifies  any  means  to  the  end:  "The 
people  think  primitively.  The  intelligence  is  subject  to  a 
thousand  temptations,  but  the  heart  beats  with  its  steady 
beat.  The  ordinary  man  hates  nothing  more  than  two  sided- 
ness  when  called  upon  to  consider  this  as  well  as  that.  The 
masses  think  simply  and  primitively.  They  love  to  generalize 
complicated  situations  and  from  their  generalizations  to 
draw  clear  and  uncompromising  conclusions." 


Can  this  virus  of  radio  propaganda  be  counteracted? 
Liberal  thinkers  believe  that  youth  should  be  trained  in 
propaganda-analysis  so  that  they  will  not  succumb  to  the  first 
blasts  of  the  radio  orator. 

Several  courses  in  propaganda  have  been  introduced  ex- 
perimentally in  twenty-five  high  schools  of  New  York.  The 
subject  is  inter-related  to  civics  and  the  social  studies  take 
this  approach:  Examples  of  propaganda,  both  foreign  and 
domestic,  are  brought  into  the  classroom,  Radio  speeches, 
newspaper  editorials,  current  motion  pictures,  are  dissected 
under  the  glare  of  "truth  and  accuracy."  Students  are  taught 
to  search  for  motives  at  every  step. 

At  Evander  Childs  High  School  in  New  York  City,  the 
study  of  propaganda  analysis  has  been  dramatized  to  capture 
the  interests  of  the  youth.  A  play  entitled  "Snow  White  and 
the  Seven  Propaganda  Devices,"  presented  by  the  pupils, 
challenged  all  types  of  propaganda.  Beautiful  Snow  White 
(Gullible  Public)  is  unable  to  make  up  her  mind  about  the 
Neutrality  Act.  Pulling  her  in  every  direction  are  the  seven 
little  dwarfs  of  propaganda — Glittering  Generalities,  Band- 
wagon Trick,  Transfer  Device,  Testimonial  Trick,  Plain 
Folks,  Name  Calling,  and  Card  Stacking.  After  a  severe 
buffeting,  Snow  White  is  saved  from  utter  destruction  by  the 
charming  Prince  (Critical  Thinking). 

As  they  come  upon  the  scene,  the  seven  Propaganda  De- 
vices chant  in  unison: 

"Oh,  we  are  the  seven  devices, 

We  turn  up  in  time  of  crisis; 

We  play  upon  your  feeling, 

We  set  your  brain  a-reeling. 

We  are  seven  active  contrabanders, 

We  are  seven  clever  propaganders." 

Then  the  master  propaganda  device  of  all — Name  Calling 
— sings  suggestively: 

304  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

"Of  course  when  problems  are  appalling 
We  employ  device  name-calling. 
If  you  don't  know  how  to  reason  why, 
Just  tack  a  label  on  the  other  guy." 

Professor  Clyde  R.  Miller,  Director  of  the  Institute  for 
Propaganda  Analysis,  believes  that  there  may  be  an  answer 
in  this  method:  By  having  people  approach  controversial 
problems  not  as  antagonists  or  protagonists  but  as  students 
of  the  propaganda  which  flows  from  the  conflicts  these  prob- 
lems represent.  It  must  be  remembered  that  propaganda 
is  nothing  more  than  the  opinions  and  actions  of  special 
individual  groups  which  affirm  opinions  and  notions  of  other 
individuals  and  groups. 

A  student  may  ask  the  following:  (i)  What  does  the  state- 
ment say?  (2)  What  does  it  mean?  (3)  Who  says  it?  (4)  What 
are  his  interests?  (5)  Why  does  he  say  it?  (6)  Does  the  channel 
through  which  it  appears,  newspaper,  newsreel,  radio,  give 
it  added  emphasis  or  does  it  distort  itself  by  color  or  censor- 
ship? (7)  Which  ones  do  I  believe?  (8)  Why  do  I  believe 

In  brief  students  approach  the  controversy  from  the  scien- 
tific angle,  they  strain  out  emotions,  they  will  get  the  facts 
in  pretty  much  the  same  fashion  as  a  scientist  gets  at  facts. 
By  this  method,  we  can  check  against  our  own  prejudices, 
biases,  convictions,  ideals,  as  well  as  those  of  others. 

Many  point  to  the  success  of  consumers'  organizations 
educating  the  public  to  detect  fraudulent  commercial  claims. 
When  people  discover  the  means  by  which  they  have  been 
duped,  they  are  likely  to  be  on  their  guard.  In  the  same  way, 
it  is  possible  to  teach  people  to  be  on  their  guard  about  the 
motives  and  methods  of  those  who  would  control  their 

The  Group  Leaders  Guide  to  Propaganda  Analysis  is  an 
experimental  study  project  prepared  by  the  Institute  of 


Propaganda  Analysis.  Courses  in  propaganda  analysis  have 
been  extended  experimentally  to  five  hundred  and  fifty 
schools  and  colleges  throughout  the  country. 

Dr.  James  Bryant  Conant,  president  of  Harvard  Univer- 
sity, speaking  on  "Defenses  Against  Propaganda,"  over  CBS, 

"By  considering  the  pros  and  cons  of  historic  debates  of 
previous  generations,  a  student  can  exercise  his  own  judg- 
ment on  matters  of  political  importance  relatively  unham- 
pered by  the  propagandist.  Every  citizen  should  be  taught 
fundamental  principles  of  American  constitutional  govern- 
ment. Youth  should  be  made  acquainted  with  the  psychology 
of  public  opinion  and  the  methods  of  manipulating  this 
opinion  commonly  employed.  There  should  be  instilled  in 
him  the  importance  of  due  process  of  law  and  the  meaning 
of  justice  and  liberty  under  the  American  constitution.  These 
broad  principles  are  to  be  taught  by  social,  scientific,  and 
literary  history  of  this  country,  as  well  as  a  mature  study  of 
the  historical  problems  of  the  past." 

Members  of  the  Society  for  the  Psychological  Study  of 
Social  Issues  meeting  in  Berkeley  in  1939,  decided  to  analyze 
war  propaganda  in  the  hope  of  persuading  Americans  to 
weigh  facts.  Dean  Carl  Ackerman  of  the  Columbia  School 
of  Journalism  holds  the  same  point  of  view.  "The  People  of 
the  country  are  not  boobs,"  he  declared  with  fervor.  "They 
have  sound  common  sense  and  are  ready  to  reach  honest 
American  conclusions  after  they  have  listened  to  or  read 
news  dispatches  and  comments,  considered  facts  and  applied 
discrimination  of  judgment  to  the  facts  and  opinions  as 
presented  by  the  different  sides  of  the  European  war." 

Professor  Robert  K.  Spear  of  New  York  University  only 
recently  advised  setting  up  in  each  high  school  and  college 
"a  unit  of  instruction  on  propaganda  analysis  to  provide 
some  means  for  a  cool  evaluation  of  the  propaganda  playing 
upon  our  prejudices,  loyalties  and  free  disquisition."  Train- 

3O6  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

ing  in  listening  and  rapid  analysis  of  the  substance  of  the 
speech  and  the  style  of  oratory  should  be  part  of  the  cur- 
riculum. In  addition  speeches  given  over  the  air  as  they 
appear  in  print  should  be  subjected  to  a  more  careful 
analysis  for  logical  content  and  proof.  The  cold  print  will 
dissociate  facts  and  logic  from  vocal  tricks  and  hysterical 

As  a  second  means  of  heightening  resistance  to  propa- 
ganda, Aldous  Huxley  suggests  that  people  be  trained  to 
subject  the  devices  of  the  propagandist  to  critical  analysis, 
and  to  examine  all  metaphors,  personifications,  and  abstrac- 
tions to  the  most  searching  analysis.  Empty  words  will  not 
fool  the  listener  so  easily  because  they  will  be  instantly 
translated  into  the  real  thing.  Noble  verbiage  will  not  get 
by  so  easily. 

The  politician,  the  churchman,  the  statesman,  the  dictator, 
will  not  indulge  in  flights  of  hokum  when  he  is  made  to 
realize  that  listeners  will  not  accept  them  unless  they  make 
their  meanings  clear  by  the  use  of  concrete  terms.  The 
tendency  to  be  tyrannized  by  exalted  words  will  remain  one 
of  the  anomalies  of  human  nature. 

Stuart  Chase,  in  the  Tyranny  of  Language,  made  it  plain 
that  words  can  have  meaning  only  in  specific  context,  only 
by  limited  definition  or  in  relation  to  immediate  referents. 
The  trick  of  the  propagandist  is  to  use  abstractions  and  per- 
sonifications and  a  lot  of  meaningless  generalizations. 

As  an  example,  the  economist  analyzes  such  lofty  plati- 
tudes as  this,  uttered  by  Goebbels:  "The  Aryan  Fatherland, 
which  has  nursed  the  souls  of  heroes,  calls  upon  you  for  the 
supreme  sacrifice  .  .  .  which  will  echo  forever  down  the 
corridors  of  history." 

The  same,  subjected  to  Chase's  semantic  translation,  is 
exposed  as  nonsense:  "Blab  .  .  .  blab  .  .  .  has  nursed  the 
blab  of  blabs,  calls  upon  you  for  the  blab-blab  .  .  .  which 


will  echo  down  the  blabs  of  blab."  For  the  effectiveness  of 
this  style  try  it  on  yourself. 

Thirdly,  as  part  of  the  education  against  propaganda, 
the  listener  must  be  taught  to  dissociate  the  idea  intended 
from  all  slogans  and  catch-words.  Radio  has  a  way  of  fasten- 
ing a  slogan  in  the  ears  of  the  public.  Once  the  slogan  is 
ripped  off  the  argument,  facts  become  more  patent,  and 
reason  instead  of  fancy  and  passion  rule. 

Some  one  has  suggested  that  if  radio  propaganda  were 
seeking  a  slogan  of  its  own  it  might  choose,  "Don't  think! 
Listen,  Believe." 

The  Voice  of  Propaganda 

The  propagandist  is  often  the  perfect  trickster  in  the  use 
of  the  voice.  Experience  teaches  the  speaker  just  what  vocal 
effects  bring  the  desired  responses.  Hitler  had  seventeen 
years  of  speechifying  behind  him  before  he  attained  his  high 
post.  The  future  was  to  be  devoted  to  the  time-tried  tricks 
he  had  learned  during  his  kampf.  Dr.  Goebbels  has  more 
faith  in  the  superiority  of  the  spoken  word  over  all  forms 
of  propaganda. 

A  study  of  the  propagandist  should  include  his  system  of 
rhetoric  and  management  of  the  voice.  The  propagandist  is 
prone  to  indulge  in  endless  repetitions  and  sweeping  gen- 
eralizations. Arguments  are  clinched  by  platitudes  and  the 
rhetorical  question  frequently  indulged. 

The  agitator  over  the  air  must  give  evidence  of  strength 
and  confidence  by  strength  and  confidence  in  voice.  He  is  a 
master  of  exhibitionism  in  voice  and  plays  at  theatrical 
changes  to  achieve  results.  He  even  weeps.  "We  can  always 
get  Adolph  to  weep,"  Goering  was  supposed  to  have  said 
about  the  Feuhrer. 

The  propagandist  gathers  vocal  momentum  from  phrase 
to  phrase.  The  voice  surges  to  emotional  heights.  A  series 

308  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

of  climaxes  marks  his  appeal.  The  ending  is  often  a  scream 
of  defiance.  Hitler's  vocal  cords  break  under  the  strain  of 
his  "gutteral  thunder."  As  the  tumult  of  words  tumble  from 
his  lips,  the  voice  ends  in  the  frenzied  shriek,  "Heil  Deutsch- 
land!"  or  "Sieg!  Sieg!" 

The  quiet  and  reflective  type  of  orator  is  least  effective 
as  a  propagandist.  The  mob  is  more  easily  affected  by  a 
display  of  emotionalism  evidenced  by  dynamic  changes  in 
pitch  and  volume  and  qualities  of  voice  that  echo  the  strong- 
est inner  feeling  of  anger,  courage,  revenge,  sorrow  and  the 
like.  The  voice  of  a  radio  propagandist  should  seem  inspired. 
The  listener  is  whipped  into  line  by  appeal  to  the  crudest 
emotions  and  common  hatreds. 

Huey  Long  indulged  in  crude  shouting  when  he  promised 
salvation  for  all  on  the  "share  the  wealth"  plan,  but  he  had 
that  colloquial  touch  which  brought  the  mob  within  his 
fold.  Father  Coughlin  plays  on  the  entire  gamut  of  his  vocal 
gifts  but  his  flights  of  oratory  betray  him  as  a  flamboyant 
demagogue  rather  than  a  thinker. 

The  Radio  Newspaper 

Time  was  before  the  printed  word,  when  news  spread 
only  through  gossip.  The  age  of  oral  communication  has 
returned  in  the  form  which  H.  V.  Kaltenborn  has  called  the 
"Fifth  Estate."  Millions  today  would  rather  get  the  news 
through  the  ear  than  through  the  eye. 

Spot  news  was  once  the  monopoly  of  the  daily  press.  The 
swift  progress  of  radio  in  the  dissemination  of  the  news 
forced  the  press  to  yield  the  crown.  The  birth  of  spot  broad- 
cast began  with  the  election  returns  of  the  Harding  cam- 
paign of  1920.  For  over  ten  years  after  that,  radio  stations 
freely  helped  themselves  to  the  news.  As  soon  as  it  appeared 
in  print,  they  passed  it  on  over  the  air.  The  common  prac- 


tice  was  to  sell  news  programs  to  advertisers  of  soaps,  laxa- 
tives, depilatories  and  every  variety  of  produce. 

Two  influences  brought  about  the  battle  of  the  Press  with 
the  Fifth  Estate.  First  came  the  depression  of  1929.  Adver- 
tising revenues  of  newspapers  suddenly  dropped  to  low 
levels  while  radio,  by  contrast,  was  waxing  fat  on  profits. 
Secondly,  radio  had  created  the  news  commentator  whose 
stylized  news  reports  captured  an  enormous  audience  avid 
for  the  news. 

The  newspaper  looked  with  alarm  at  this  invasion  of  their 
property  rights.  The  situation  demanded  a  restraining  hand. 
There  is  an  absurd  monotony  in  the  oral  presentation  of 
news.  Major  events  as  well  as  trivialities  in  the  news  are 
treated  on  the  same  level. 

The  dispatches  and  commentaries  during  the  European 
War  crisis  proved  the  whetted  eagerness  of  the  public  to 
read  the  printed  statement  of  the  news.  There  is  a  class  of 
listeners  that  does  not  fully  believe  the  news  until  it  has 
been  set  up  in  print.  This  may  explain  why  many  listeners 
write  in  for  a  printed  copy  of  a  speech  or  report. 

In  the  early  days  the  commentator  loomed  up  as  a  dan- 
gerous enemy  of  the  Press.  The  cry  arose  that  commentators 
were  filching  the  news.  A  few  cents  dropped  on  the  news 
stands  and  they  could  walk  away  with  the  latest  editions 
and  the  cream  of  the  news.  They  had  developed  the  art  of 
emphasizing  the  human  side  of  the  news;  they  knew  how  to 
condense  the  news  to  fit  time  allowance;  they  could  stylize 
ideas  in  impressionable  language,  more  interesting  than 
the  printed  page.  And  then  there  was  the  voice  to  conjure 
with.  The  speaking  of  the  news  brought  not  only  informa- 
tion but  entertainment  to  a  new  audience, — people  remote 
from  centers  of  population,  the  blind,  the  illiterate,  and 
half-illiterate,  and  those  more  ear-minded  than  eye-minded. 

The  Press  fired  its  big  guns  in  1931.  The  Federal  Courts 
were  invoked  to  establish  a  property  right  in  the  news  col- 

310  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

lected  by  the  newspapers.  Newspapers  as  a  tactical  measure 
clamped  the  lid  on  all  radio  publicity  and  refused  to  publish 
listings  unless  paid  for  at  space  rates. 

The  Press,  however,  had  reckoned  without  its  public. 
Circulation  dwindled  when  readers  stopped  buying  news- 
papers which  did  not  include  radio  programs.  The  Press 
capitulated  and  restored  listings.  This  was  merely  a  tem- 
porary truce  for  the  battle  was  renewed  in  1933  when  the 
American  Newspaper  Publishers  Association  issued  the  edict 
which  forbade  the  broadcasting  of  news  unless  the  stations 
did  their  own  news-gathering.  Radio  felt  the  stab  but  did 
not  surrender  meekly.  The  public  appetite  and  clamor  for 
news  had  to  be  appeased.  Some  of  the  stations  created  their 
own  news  staff,  others  obtained  or  bought  the  news  from  the 
Associated  Press,  the  United  Press  or  the  Hearst  services. 
The  publishers  at  once  brought  pressure  to  bear,  and  the 
AP  left  radio  flat.  The  UP  likewise  soon  reneged. 

The  networks  were  then  left  to  their  own  devices.  In  the 
summer  of  1933,  CBS  organized  its  own  news  agency, — the 
Columbia  News  Service.  It  set  up  bureaus  in  key  cities  here 
and  abroad  and  contracted  for  foreign  news  from  a  British 
agency.  The  service  was  beginning  to  thrive  on  the  revenue 
from  the  commercial  sponsorship  of  such  news  when  dis- 
sension broke  out  in  radio's  ranks.  The  NBC  chain  had  no 
newsgathering  bureau  of  its  own.  Instead  of  striking  out 
boldly  in  competition,  it  was  inclined  to  make  terms  with 
the  publishers. 

A  general  fear  suddenly  struck  the  networks.  The  press 
might,  like  some  monster,  retaliate  and  lend  its  powerful 
influence  for  government  ownership,  and  that  would  be  the 
end  of  them  all.  A  variety  of  other  reasons  led  to  the  death 
knell  of  the  Columbia  News  Service.  During  1941,  the  radio 
press  rallied  to  the  cause  of  the  national  emergency.  At  any 
moment  its  powers  may  be  taken  over  by  the  Government 
and  its  franchise  forfeited  in  the  public  interest. 


Birth  of  the  Press  Radio  Bureau 

The  two  networks  and  the  press  associations  finally  agreed 
to  cooperate.  The  result  was  a  truce  signed  in  1934  and  the 
creation  of  the  Press  Radio  Bureau.  Upon  the  council  board 
of  this  Bureau  were  to  sit  the  representatives  of  the  United 
Press,  the  Associated  Press,  and  the  International  News 

Competition,  however,  was  not  so  easily  stifled.  Over  four 
hundred  independent  stations  were  not  bound  by  the  Press- 
Radio  agreement.  Up  in  New  England,  the  Yankee  network, 
a  group  of  nine  important  radio  stations,  took  up  the  cudgels 
for  the  public,  and  established  its  own  newsgathering  service. 

Quietly,  too,  another  newsgathering  bureau  was  planning 
to  take  the  helm.  It  threatened  to  set  up  a  sort  of  "Associated 
Press  of  the  Air."  This  was  the  Transradio  Press,  Inc.,  which 
was  actually  ready  to  begin  business  one  week  before  the 
Press  Radio  agreement  went  into  effect.  The  editor,  Herbert 
S.  Moore,  now  thirty-three,  had  been  associated  with  UP, 
and  sought  to  build  up  an  independent  news  service,  free 
from  restrictions  for  commercial  purposes.  Transradio  began 
with  the  principle  that  newscasting  should  not  be  a  mere 
rehash  of  stale  items  listeners  had  already  read  in  the  papers. 
It  sought  to  present  accurate  spot  news  in  a  concise,  col- 
loquial, yet  dramatic  manner. 

Moore  established  the  policy  that  radio  must  tell  the  story 
in  the  "way  a  man  would  break  the  news  to  his  wife  that 
his  boss  had  given  him  a  raise."  It  managed  to  be  first  on 
the  air  with  flash  news  of  major  importance,  such  as  the 
Hauptmann  verdict.  Within  a  year  Transradio  news  was 
broadcast  over  more  than  ninety  stations.  Today  Transradio 
goes  by  teletype  and  radio  telegraph  to  two  hundred  and 
ninety  stations  and  boasts  of  an  unusual  number  of  "beats." 

The  Press  and  Radio  Bureau  has  been  attacked  from  many 

312  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

angles  and  at  present  the  opposition  in  a  few  major  indict- 

1.  The  Bureau  has  set  itself  up  as  a  sort  of  general  pro- 
tecting agency  for  the  broadcasters  when  it  has  no  such  right. 
Edward  H.   Harris,  former  Chairman  of  the  Radio  Com- 
mittee of  the  American  Newspaper  Publishers  Association, 
denied  any  station  had  the  right  to  establish  its  own  press 
bureaus.  "No  agency  directly  or  indirectly  under  govern- 
ment license  should  function  as  a  newsgathering  organiza- 

2.  The  system  establishes  a  personal  censorship  over  the 
news,   since   representatives   of   the   press   alone   determine 
what  news  should  be  broadcast  and  what  news  should  be 
omitted,  and  how  the  news  should  be  written.  Ironically 
enough,  the  Bureau  claims  that  such  news  is  furnished  free 
to  the  broadcasters  as  a  public  service. 

3.  The  Bureau  robs  the  public  of  adequate  treatment  of 
the  news.  Its  first  regulations  limited  the  broadcasts  to  two 
five-minute  periods  during  each  twenty-four  hours  and  con- 
fined the  news  reports  to  a  maximum  of  fifteen  hundred 
words.  In  addition,  the  time  during  which  these  five-minute 
reports  might   be   broadcast   was   so   fixed   that   the   news 
reached  the  listener  after  it  had  been  printed  in  the  news- 
papers. "For  further  details  see  your  daily  newspaper"  be- 
came the  slogan  for  news  that  was  often  stale. 

4.  Press  associations  have  destroyed  public  interest  in  the 
radio  press  by  the  manner  of  treating  the  news.  Vital  hap- 
penings of  the  day  are  reduced  to  sketchy  statements,  written 
in  a  style  often  weak  and  uninspiring.  A  consistent  effort  is 
made  to  make  it  appear  that  radio  is  but  a  beggarly  substi- 
tute for  the  newspaper.  The  presentation  of  facts  does  not 
mean  a  bald,  commonplace  style,  even  though  Radio  de- 
mands condensation.  The  making  of  such  reports  should 
command  the  attention  of  writers  skilled  in  the  oral  graces 


of  English  and  unhampered  by  too  stringent  external  control 
on  their  words. 

5.  Press  bulletins  as  they  reach  the  broadcasting  stations 
are  naturally  stereotyped  in  form  since  they  are  meant 
for  common  consumption  all  over  the  country.  There  is  an 
absurd  monotony  in  the  oral  presentation  of  the  news. 
There  is  also  a  gruesomeness  in  details  of  crimes  and  acci- 
dents such  as  the  description  of  mutilated  bodies  or  unusual 
methods  of  physical  violence.  The  reader,  ravenous  for  these 
details,  can  find  them  with  illustrations  in  his  newspaper, 
or  he  may  skip  them  entirely. 

Without  giving  undue  exaggeration  to  the  news,  it  is 
possible  to  lend  color  and  variety  to  the  reading  of  the  news. 
What  news  reporting  on  the  air  needs  today  is  something  of 
the  spontaneity  and  liveliness  that  characterize  the  com- 

The  British  news-caster  reads  more  deliberately,  in 
marked  contrast  to  the  American  style  of  delivery.  He  pauses 
to  indicate  any  change  of  topic — from  general  news  to 
sports  results  and  from  sport  to  the  price  of  tin  in  the  Straits 

"We  don't  believe  in  the  golden  voice,"  explains  W.  M. 
Shewen,  the  BBC's  senior  announcer  of  programs  broadcast 
to  the  British  Empire  on  short  wave,  whose  voice  is  heard 
by  many  American  radio  fans. 

These  bulletins  are  handed  over  to  an  announcer  to  read. 
He  can  play  the  news  up  or  down  just  as  the  typographical 
spread.  In  the  olden  days  the  airing  of  a  press  bulletin  by 
Graham  McNamee  tingled  with  the  tenseness  and  excite- 
ment of  the  city  room.  There  was  a  glow  to  his  voice  and  he 
made  you  see  an  event  in  larger  proportions.  The  reader  of 
news  bulletins  is  confined  to  an  agreeable  reading  of  his 
script.  Whether  it  be  catastrophe  or  romance,  political  dis- 
ruption or  national  revolution,  triumphal  flight  of  aeroplane 
or  break  of  stock  exchange,  the  announcer  is  a  convention- 

314  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

alized  reader, — the  very  phraseology  of  his  script  is  processed. 
A  John  Barrymore,  if  handed  a  script  of  this  sort,  could  do 
justice  to  it  in  terms  of  emotion,  but  let  the  announcer  try 
it  and  he  would  be  fired  the  next  minute! 

In  1938  the  French  Government  decreed  that  news  pro- 
grams be  reduced  from  ninety  to  fifteen  minutes  a  day  on 
both  government-  and  radio-owned  stations,  on  the  plea  of 
the  newspapers  that  they  could  not  stand  the  radio  com- 

Competition  or  Cooperation? 

The  difficulties  between  radio  and  the  press  appeared  to 
be  smoothed  out,  but  actually  they  have  grown  more  com- 
plex. Both  are  slumbering  giants,  ready  to  get  after  each 
other.  In  a  special  sense  they  are  not  truly  antagonistic. 
Radio  and  the  Press  each  has  its  own  distinct  place  in  the 
spreading  of  the  news.  The  line  of  demarcation  is  indeed 
well  marked.  Wickham  Steed  maintains  that  "broadcasting 
may  get  its  blows  in  first,  and  if  the  blow  is  shrewd  and 
true  it  will  command  increasing  confidence."  He  continues: 
"But  newspapers  can  strengthen  and  deepen  the  impression 
made  by  the  spoken  word  if  the  news  they  give  is  equally 
true  and  straight,  and  if  their  comments  upon  it  are  such  as 
commend  themselves  to  listeners  who  may  have  reflected 
overnight  upon  what  they  have  heard  before  reading  inter- 
pretations of  it  the  next  morning." 

The  newspaper  can  cover  reams  in  its  detailed  reports; 
radio  is  forced  to  treat  the  news  briefly.  The  newspaper  will 
always  retain  its  function  as  a  depository  of  the  news  even 
after  spot  news  has  lost  its  pulling  power.  The  news  which 
reaches  us  out  of  the  loudspeaker  is  ephemeral  and  of  no 
use  for  reference.  There  must  be  a  special  reason  why  a 
man  would  want  to  read  a  speech  of  the  president  after  he 
had  heard  it  on  the  air.  The  radio  dispatches  and  com- 
mentaries during  the  European  war  crisis  in  1938  proved 


the  public's  eagerness  to  read  the  printed  statement  of  the 
news  keener  than  ever.  This  may  explain  why  many  listeners 
write  for  the  offered  copy  of  a  speech  or  report.  The  printed 
matter  is  a  safer  guide  than  the  ear,  for  the  mind  in  reading 
has  a  chance  to  ponder  over  the  news. 

Certain  events  grip  the  mind  while  they  are  happening 
and  are  best  described  over  the  air.  These  include  sports, 
races,  celebrations,  speeches,  civic  ceremonies  and  the  like. 
In  this  respect,  radio  is  a  neutral  and  unbiased  news  trans- 
mitting agency.  The  newspaper  retains  for  itself  its  right  as 
a  protagonist  as  well  as  a  disseminator  of  the  news. 

The  principal  objection  to  the  joint  control  by  press  and 
radio  is  the  fear  that  it  is  not  sound  policy  to  give  a  single 
agency  control  of  the  two  means  of  reaching  the  mind  of 
the  American  public.  The  danger  lies  in  a  possible  con- 
spiracy of  press  and  radio  to  control  the  news  and  so  control 
public  thinking. 

A  monopolistic  invasion  of  journalism  would  be  a  mighty 
wedge  to  totalitarian  mass  thinking.  The  surest  guarantee 
of  free  speech  lies  in  competition  between  the  newspapers. 
Perhaps  no  one  has  put  the  matter  more  sanely  than  Sir 
Wickham  Steed,  the  British  journalist: 

"In  a  word,  the  contest  between  broadcasting  and  the 
press  needs  to  be  judged  from  the  standpoint  of  what  is 
most  conducive  to  public  welfare  and  to  the  safeguarding 
of  that  freedom  of  public  opinion  which  is  a  condition  of 
every  true  civilization.  Should  broadcasting  ever  become 
an  agency  for  the  dissemination  of  one  set  of  ideas  to  the 
exclusion  of  others,  should  any  official  or  semi-official  taint 
permanently  disfigure  it,  or  should  it  lend  itself  to  other 
propaganda  than  that  of  making  known  from  day  to  day, 
facts  and  views  which  the  nation  ought  to  know,  it  would 
in  turn  be  required  to  be  opposed,  criticized  and  even  de- 
nounced; and  in  opposing,  criticizing  or  denouncing  it, 
dependent  newspapers  would  render  a  public  service." 

316  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

The  Future  of  the  Radio  Press 

What  does  the  future  hold  for  the  radio  press? 

Imminent  developments  in  televison  and  facsimile,  it  is 
predicted,  will  make  it  possible  for  country  newspapers  to 
operate  their  own  facsimile  broadcasting  stations  using  low- 
power  ultra-high-frequency  transmitters.  Silas  Brent  en- 
visages impending  changes:  "When  one  can  see  news  happen 
while  listening  to  it,  the  newspaper,  as  such  will  receive  its 
coup  de  grace.  One  trembles  to  think  what  will  become  of 
the  newspapers,  so  far  as  their  present  capacities  and  appeals 
are  concerned,  when  this  time  arrives. 

"I  believe  the  daily  will  go  by  the  board  and  that  we  will 
have  weeklies  blessed  with  some  of  the  qualities  of  the  'Man- 
chester Guardian,'  yet  containing  summaries  of  important 
happenings  with  documentary  material,  with  interpretations 
of  political,  economic  and  social  events,  with  fewer  pages 
devoted  to  the  comics  and  advice  to  the  lovelorn.  In  this 
way,  the  ill  wind  of  radio  may  blow  the  press  some  benefit." 

Publicists  are  naturally  impatient  with  predictions.  H. 
V.  Kaltenborn  would  not  venture  a  statement  until  he  had 
looked  in  on  the  television  of  George  VTs  coronation. 
"Television  is  so  near  that  it  is  high  time  to  give  it  a  little 
thought  in  connection  with  the  news." 

Both  radio  and  the  press  live  in  glass  houses.  The  press 
supplies  the  readers  with  whatever  their  owners  think  they 
have  the  right  to  lay  before  them,  and  radio  is  equally  guilty 
of  its  share  in  propagandizing.  This  was  the  thesis  of  a 
vitriolic  debate  between  Secretary  Harold  L.  Ickes  and 
Frank  Gannet,  newspaper  proprietor. 

"To  preserve  freedom  of  opinion,  we  must  tolerate  even 
an  abuse  of  that  opinion,,"  declared  the  Secretary  in  a  later 
analysis  of  the  danger  of  reckless  license  unscrupulously 
used  on  the  part  of  newspaper  and  radio. 

"I  would  not,  if  I  could,"  he  conceded,   "prevent  the 


expression  in  the  columns  or  over  the  air,  of  any  views  on 
public  affairs,  provided  only  that  the  public  is  not  denied  an 
equal  opportunity  to  hear  the  other  side." 

Constructing  the  News  Script 

The  preparation  of  the  news  report  is  in  the  hands  of 
skilled  writers  who  have  learned  the  art  of  radio  style  and 
presentation.  It  is  an  easy  trick  of  adaptation,  and  the  prin- 
ciples we  indicate  are  about  the  same  with  all  news  bureaus. 

1.  Style  is  important.  A  newspaper  written  entirely  in 
broadcast  style  might  strike  readers  as  unreadable  just  as  a 
broadcast  "talk"  prepared  in  the  style  of  a  newspaper  article 
would  not  receive  the  same  degree  of  attention  as  if  it  had 
the  marks  of  a  personal  style. 

2.  The  news  as  spoken  furnishes  the  "picture  paper"  of 
the  air,  hence  bulletins  should  have  their  share  of  impelling 
phrases  and  words  that  provoke  immediate  images.   This 
makes  the  news  far  more  entertaining  to  the  ear  than  the 
reading  of  short  headlines,  and  the  condensed  lead  which  is 
the  practice  of  the  daily  papers. 

3.  Each  item  covered  revolves  around  one  incident,  and 
all  unnecessary  details  are  omitted.  This  leaves  the  listener 
with  a  single  impression,  aided  by  significant  "color"  de- 
tails which  require  careful  choice. 

4.  Statistical  figures,  in  general  news  reports,  bore  the 
average  listener  and  are  generally  omitted  unless  they  con- 
cern matters  of  national  importance  such  as  WPA  appropria- 
tions, the  Draft  schedules,  Red  Cross  collections  and  the  like. 
Figures  expressed  in  generalizations  of  round  numbers  are 
more  easily  rationalized. 

5.  Certain  special  taboos  apply  to  radio  news.  Transradio 
Press  Service  includes  in  this  list  unpleasant  stories  that  deal 
with  crime,  unless  they  are  of  compelling  national  interest 
and  are  already  of  pulling  effect  in  papers  throughout  the 

318  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

country;  also,  gruesome  details  of  crimes  and  accidents,  such 
as  the  description  of  mutilated  bodies  or  unusual  methods 
of  physical  violence.  The  listener  has  no  choice,  he  is  at  the 
mercy  of  the  broadcaster  and  cannot  stop  the  tale  of  horror 
unless  he  turns  off  his  dial,  and  then  it  may  be  too  late.  The 
message  may  have  already  come  through  the  loud  speaker  to 
the  assembled  family. 

6.  The  brief  five-minute  resume  of  the  news  contains  from 
eight  to  ten  fast  moving  items,  each  of  which  is  datelined. 

7.  The  punch  sentence  consists  of  seven  words  or  less  and 
impacts  the  ear  with  a  force  analogous  to  the  black  headlines 
which  arrest  the  eye. 

8.  The   use   of   the   exclamation    "Flash!"    is   no    longer 
countenanced  by  the  FCC.  Announcers  too  often  shrieked 
out  "Flash"  for  the  most  trivial  items  already  widely  cir- 
culated in  print,  or  as  a  preface  for  bulletins  that  had  not 
actually  just  come  over  the  wires. 

9.  Variety  should  characterize  the  items  chosen  for  broad- 
casting. National  news  should  be  balanced  by  local  news  that 
affects  the  community  within  the  range  of  the  transmitter. 
Local  Boston  news  may  not  have  the  slightest  import  in 
Seattle  or  Tennessee.  The  items  chosen  are  of  front-page 
importance  dealing  with  fresh  news  or  latest  developments 
and  so  writers  persist  that  if  feasible,  no  two  items  on  crime 
or  politics  should  follow  one  another.   If  broadcasts  cover 
more  than  five  minutes,  proportion  requires  that  a  longer 
treatment  of  a  subject  follow  a  shorter  one.  Here  the  rule 
requires  study  of  better  listener  attention. 

10.  At  least  one  news  story  may  be  featured  and  should 
run  between  one  hundred  and  fifty  to  one  hundred  and 
seventy-five  words.  The  average  fifteen-minute  talk,  whether 
it  be  news  or  advice  on  health,  contains  about  two  thousand 
two  hundred  and  fifty  words  although  some  of  the  veteran 
commentators   cover   more   ground.    For    example,    Lowell 
Thomas  figures  about  two  thousand  four  hundred  words  for 


thirteen  minutes,  and  others  of  the  more  rapid-fire  variety, 
microphone  from  two  thousand  five  hundred  to  two  thou- 
sand eight  hundred  words  in  that  length  of  time.  The  speed 
in  every  instance  is  naturally  gauged  by  the  speaker's  style, 
therefore,  there  can  be  no  definite  rule  for  news  broadcasts 
anymore  than  for  teaching,  spellbinding  or  preaching.  Speed 
depends  upon  the  material  and  voice  personality  of  the  in- 
dividual broadcaster. 

11.  For  immediate  effect,  start  with  <rcolorful"  news  items 
of  human  interest,  and  instead  of  the  date  line,  play  up  the 
news  in  a  "headline  lead."   The  locale  of  the  story  must 
however  be  clearly  indicated  in  the  first  sentence. 

12.  The  most  timely  and  important  items  may  be  placed 
where  they  will  make  the  strongest  impression.  The  biggest 
item  will  usually  come  second,  but  practice  varies.  The  end 
item  requires  careful  selection.  Study  the  news  for  the  fea- 
tures that  can  be  played  up  entertainingly.  The  final  para- 
graph lends  enhancement  to  the  broadcast  and  rounds  things 
out.  Lowell  Thomas  is  master  of  the  anecdotal  item  which 
is  remembered  long  after  the  news  items  are  forgotten. 

13.  The  favorite  news-time  period  is  between  six  and  eight 
P.M.  with  an  additional  summary  at  eleven   P.M.   which 
covers  events  since  the  last  evening  edition  of  the  papers. 

14.  Special   bulletins  of  transcendental  importance   may 
be  "flashed"  immediately  and  may  interrupt  a  regular  pro- 
gram or  be  inserted  between  programs.  Emphasis  on  stories 
that  appeal  to  women  should  be  stressed  from  morning  until 
late  afternoon  during  their  peak  listening  hours. 

15.  Bulletins  of  disasters  such  as  aeroplane  wrecks  or  ships 
sinking  should  be  specific  as  to  locale.  A  generalized  news 
report  worded:  "Twenty  people  died  in  an  aeroplane  crash 
in  Ohio  this  afternoon,"  would  create  undue  alarm  among 
listeners  who  have  relatives  flying  at  that  period. 

16.  War  news  from  reporters  on   the  scene  in   foreign 
capitals  is  becoming  of  great  importance,  and  should  be 
accepted  with  a  view  to  European  censorships. 

32O  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

The  Rise  of  the  News  Commentator 

The  first  commentators  of  the  news  over  the  air  were  the 
announcers  who  gave  to  a  listening  America,  the  election 
returns  of  the  Harding  campaign  of  1920.  Only  journalism 
was  thus  ushered  in  on  the  air  with  an  event  of  national 
importance.  All  this  is  past  history.  The  News  commentator 
came  into  the  radio  field  actually  only  when  transmission 
and  receiving  sets  became  perfected.  In  1922,  H.  V.  Kalten- 
born  was  the  first  and  only  editorialist  on  the  air. 

News  programs  reached  their  improved  form  in  1930.  Led 
by  H.  V.  Kaltenborn,  Lowell  Thomas  and  Floyd  Gibbons, 
the  news  commentator  established  himself  firmly  with  his 
public.  Later,  radio  recruited  Boake  Carter,  Edwin  C.  Hill, 
John  B.  Kennedy  and  others  whose  talents  lay  in  the  news- 
paper field. 

The  background  and  experience  of  the  news  commentator 
are  of  vital  importance  in  his  approach  to  radio.  Lowell 
Thomas  was  on  the  staff  of  more  than  a  dozen  large  metro- 
politan newspapers  before  he  came  to  radio  as  news  com- 
mentator for  the  Literary  Digest.  His  life  had  been  replete 
with  action  and  adventure.  An  unquenchable  thirst  for  travel 
had  carried  him  to  the  far  corners  of  the  globe  where  he 
had  seen  history  in  the  making.  He  has  been  a  gold  miner, 
cowpuncher,  football  player,  law  student,  reporter,  editor, 
college  professor,  explorer  of  the  Arctic,  India,  Malaya, 
Burma  and  Central  Asia;  special  plenipotentiary  to  Europe 
during  the  World  War,  war  correspondent,  world  traveler, 
and  author  of  many  books  on  adventure.  He  has  been  an 
intimate  friend  of  Field  Marshal  Viscount  Allenby;  of  Sul- 
tans, Prime  Ministers  and  Kings;  friend  of  Princely  Emirs 
of  the  East;  close  companion  of  Lawrence,  the  mystery  man 
of  Arabia;  confidant  of  Carl  Liebknecht  and  Rosa  Luxem- 
burg, acquaintance  of  princes  and  beggars  of  Jerusalem 
and  Mecca,  of  London  and  Rome,  of  Paris  and  Singapore. 


Lowell  Thomas  has  been  called  the  "Dean  of  Radio  Com- 
mentators." He  had  capitalized  on  his  experience  by  lectur- 
ing to  more  than  four  million  people  who  paid  close  to  a 
million  dollars  to  hear  his  adventures.  When  first  heard  over 
the  microphone  his  series  of  broadcasts,  "Topics  In  Brief — 
The  News  Behind  the  News,"  Thomas  pinch-hit  for  Floyd 
Gibbons.  He  was  described  as  Radio's  Newest  Voice.  Some- 
thing in  his  rich  and  modulated  tones  conveyed  a  genuine 
friendliness  to  a  vaster  audience  than  he  had  dreamed  of  on 
the  public  platform. 

The  busy  commentator  may  need  assistance  in  compiling 
his  stuff.  Lowell  Thomas  maintains  a  private  staff,  which 
includes  Prosper  Buranelli  and  Louis  Sherwin,  both  astute, 
brilliant  and  competent  journalists. 

Floyd  Gibbons,  before  his  microphone  debut,  was  the 
newspaper  reporter  whose  one  journalistic  object  in  life 
was  to  scoop  the  news.  Indeed,  he  has  been  called  the  greatest 
"first  news  reporter"  on  the  contemporary  scene.  In  his 
earlier  broadcasting,  Floyd  Gibbons  edited  the  "Newspaper 
of  the  Air."  He  was  the  first  newspaperman  to  leave  an  im- 
press of  his  personality  on  his  listeners. 

Most  fast  talkers  slow  down  once  in  a  while  but  Gibbons 
developed  a  rat-atap  pace  of  some  two  hundred  and  seven- 
teen words  per  minute  that  held  listeners  spellbound.  He 
translated  newspaper  experience  into  microphone  experi- 
ence. Eagerly  and  briskly  he  commenced:  "Hello,  every- 
body, bushels  of  news  today,  things  popping  up  all  over  the 

Floyd  lost  the  sight  of  one  eye  by  a  machine  gun  bullet 
at  Chateau-Thierry.  John  B.  Kennedy  recalls  that  Floyd  used 
to  have  his  scripts  typed  in  jumbo  type  so  that  he  could  read 
easily.  "With  that  big  type  he  would  come  to  the  studio  with 
forty  or  fifty  pages  of  stuff,  almost  four  times  as  many  as  the 
rest  of  us  used!" 

Floyd  Gibbons'  manner  was  to  lean  toward  the  mike,  his 

322  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

torso  out-spanning  the  back  of  the  chair  by  six  inches  on 
either  side.  He  shot  a  quick  glance  over  his  shoulder  at  the 
studio  visitor.  The  full  lips  of  a  rugged  ringside  face  curled 
into  friendly  smile  and  foiled  the  glint  of  his  one  blue  eye. 

Occasionally  radio  makes  a  discovery  in  an  outsider  like 
General  Hugh  S.  Johnson.  The  former  ruler  of  the  NRA 
on  the  air  in  1939  established  himself  as  a  personality  among 
the  commentators.  He  scorned  the  academic  style,  and 
huskily  expressed  his  opinions  with  dogmatic  authority  inter- 
spersed with  Americanisms.  If  listeners  differed  from  him, 
it  was  a  warm  colorful  manner  that  listeners  seek.  Here  is 
the  man  who  is  of  the  salt  of  the  earth.  His  contract  calls 
for  delivery  of  a  script  two  hours  in  advance  of  broadcast 
time,  so  that  the  network  executives  could  look  it  over  to 
remove  any  potential  dynamite.  His  custom  was  to  deliver 
it  exactly  two  hours  in  advance,  seldom  an  extra  minute. 
There  is  a  minimum  time  for  argument. 

Don  Harold  lets  loose  a  satiric  shaft  in  Judge:  "And  the 
headaches  which  you  get  from  listening  to  General  Hugh 
Johnson's  news  commentaries  over  NBC  can  be  assuaged 
(perhaps)  by  using  Bromo-Quinine,  which  sponsors  him." 

Edwin  C.  Hill  tries  to  analyze  the  major  events  of  the  day, 
but  not  too  philosophically.  His  aim  is  a  dressed-up  picture 
of  events.  He  is  not  profoundly  analytical.  His  broadcasts 
conform  to  the  promise  that  people  like  to  listen  to  colorful, 
dramatic  stories  instead  of  a  mere  factual  presentation.  His 
preparation  is  painstaking  yet  facile.  It  takes  him  a  full  day 
of  research  and  about  four  hours  of  solid  writing  and  re- 
vision to  prepare  his  one  broadcast. 

"I  have  worked  out  a  formula  for  my  broadcasts,"  Hill 
explains.  "First  I  hit  the  audience  with  some  topic  which 
is  both  timely  and  of  general  interest,  after  which  I  tell  about 
some  amusing  angle,  followed  by  a  touch  of  sentiment  or 
an  emotional  appeal,  arid  conclude  with  some  intensely 
dramatic  item."  For  three  years  in  succession,  Hill  was 


chosen  by  the  radio  editors  of  the  United  States  and  Canada 
as  the  most  popular  news  commentator. 

Gabriel  Heatter  is  relatively  new  to  radio.  For  many  years 
he  was  a  free-lance  writer.  He  owes  his  radio  career  to  Don- 
ald Flamm,  the  president  of  WMCA.  An  article  by  Heatter 
in  The  Nation  so  intrigued  the  young  radio  executive  that 
he  invited  the  author  to  speak  about  it  over  the  air.  After 
Heatter's  initial  broadcast  in  1932,  the  invitation  was  ex- 
tended indefinitely.  He  ad  libbed  for  fifty-one  minutes  wait- 
ing for  the  "flash"  of  the  confirmation  of  the  execution  of 
Bruno  Richard  Hauptmann,  the  murderer  of  Lindbergh's 

Whose  Mouthpiece  is  the  News  Commentator? 

The  news  commentator  is  fast  becoming  the  mouthpiece 
of  public  opinion.  If  he  confines  himself  to  a  mere  recital  of 
the  news,  he  is  on  safe  ground.  If  he  imposes  his  personal 
judgment  on  questions  of  politics,  national  policy  and  eco- 
nomic affairs,  he  will  be  accused  of  "propaganda." 

The  news  commentator  always  is  presented  with  a 
dilemma.  If  he  is  to  make  any  money  at  all,  he  must  be  em- 
ployed by  some  corporation  or  other  interests.  It  is  but 
natural  that  the  sponsor  will  choose  a  man  with  views  that 
coincide  with  the  views  of  the  corporation  that  pays  his 
salary.  Even  with  the  best  of  intentions,  the  best  of  the  com- 
mentators are  bound  to  be  biased. 

Boake  Carter  was  born  in  Baku,  South  Russia,  the  son  of 
a  British  oil  man.  When  Carter  began  his  broadcasts,  his 
English  accent  grated  on  many.  His  energetic  voice  some- 
what pompous  in  tone  was  nevertheless  friendly  enough  to 
command  respect.  A.  J.  Liebling  who  "examined"  Boake 
Carter  in  Scribners  found  that  his  "scripts  are  full  of  facti- 
tious heartiness  like  'by-golly'  'great  Scott/  and  'by-Jingoes'." 
They  also  abounded  in  pretentious  premises:  "that's  a  very 

324  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

significant  fact."  He  took  leave  of  the  listener  with  a 
"Cheerio!"  invitation  to  his  next  serial  broadcast. 

The  episode  that  made  Carter  was  the  fortunate  break  at 
the  Flemington  trial  of  Bruno  Hauptmann  for  the  kidnap- 
ping of  the  Lindbergh  baby.  In  the  early  stages  of  the  dra- 
matic court  room  pageants,  Carter  departed  from  the  con- 
ventional straight  news  broadcast.  Instead  he  launched  a 
phillipic  against  the  forces  of  crime.  CBS,  which  thought 
the  public  could  not  stand  such  strong  stuff,  erased  him  from 
the  air  waves.  A  deluge  of  protests  made  CBS  reverse  itself. 
Carter  came  back.  In  his  heyday,  Boake  Carter's  nightly 
audience  was  estimated  as  from  ten  to  sixteen  millions. 

He  was  accused  of  cloaking  his  accounts  of  daily  events 
in  the  tone  of  dark  menace.  His  attack  on  labor  unions  be- 
came bolder.  CIO  pickets  marched  in  front  of  Station 
WCAU  (Philadelphia)  where  he  did  his  broadcast  and  de- 
clared a  boycott  on  the  products  of  his  sponsor,  Philco 
Radio.  Carter  studied  the  radio  technique  provocative  of 
Father  Coughlin  whom  the  commentator  declared  "always 
titillates  his  listeners." 

Carter  always  wanted  to  go  out  on  the  limb,  and  soon 
talked  himself  into  a  lot  of  trouble.  The  parting  of  the 
ways  was  soon  at  hand.  His  five  year  contract  with  the  Philco 
Radio  and  Television  Corporation  ended  early  in  1939.  He 
was  immediately  signed  up  by  General  Foods  to  broadcast 
for  Huskies  and  Post  Toasties.  Promptly  the  CIO  counsel 
of  Philadelphia  passed  a  resolution  of  boycott  against  Gen- 
eral Foods'  products.  A  meeting  was  arranged  between  Car- 
ter and  the  union  leaders.  He  agreed  he  would  refrain  from 
any  direct  comment  on  labor.  "It  takes  two  to  make  an  argu- 
ment," he  said,  "and  I  won't  argue." 

On  August  26,  1938,  General  Foods  said  "Cheerio!"  to 
Boake  Carter  failing  to  renew  his  contract.  The  man  of  the 
hour  was  off  the  air!  How  are  the  mighty  fallen!  Under  the 
impact  of  censorship  applied  by  pressure  groups,  the  great 


Boake  was  silenced.   One  catches  something  bitter  in  his 
complaint  against  his  sponsors: 

"I  have  always  expressed  my  views,"  he  said  in  a  Variety 
interview,  "but  this  butting  in  on  the  part  of  the  sponsors 
gets  worse  with  passing  months.  The  unhampered  radio  com- 
mentator is  a  thing  of  the  past.  He  is  no  more  and  there  is 
no  real  free  speech  on  the  radio.  It  is  absolutely  impossible 
today  to  be  a  genuine  radio  commentator  on  a  sponsored 
program.  The  sponsor  we  will  say  manufactures  soap,  and 
then  let  the  commentator  say  something  about  the  Germans 
and  the  sponsor  objects  because  the  Germans  buy  this  soap. 
You  mention  the  Italians  and  he  gets  jittery  for  the  same 
reason.  Everybody  uses  soap,  and  he  sells  soap  everywhere, 
so  there  is  nothing  to  talk  about  except  the  weather." 

In  1940  Carter  staged  a  comeback  sponsored  by  the  United 
Airlines,  a  much  chastened  man. 

Heywood  Broun  unloosed  a  shaft  against  some  of  his 
fellow  newspapermen.  "I  trust  that  nobody  will  insist  that 
Boake  Carter  is  an  economist  or  Ed  Hill  an  authority  on 
contemporary  labor  relations.  Both  gentlemen  do  excellent 
and  exciting  jobs.  Give  either  of  them  no  more  than  a  head- 
line and  he  can  make  the  invisible  listener  see  troop  ships 
upon  the  tide  and  watch  the  Derby  horses  in  the  stretch  or 
thrill  to  the  mental  sound  picture  of  a  coronation  band. 
This  is  an  art.  But  it  is  not  in  any  precise  sense  the  craft  of 
reporting.  For  the  effect  is  produced  almost  entirely  by  elo- 
cutionary effort.  We  may  see  the  happenings  of  the  world, 
but  we  see  them  darkly  as  reflected  through  the  particular 
personality  of  Mr.  Hill  or  Mr.  Carter." 

H.  V.  Kaltenborn  carries  in  his  radio  message  that  note 
of  integrity  and  impartiality  that  has  made  him  known  as 
a  "Good  Will  Ambassador  of  the  Newspaper  of  the  Air." 
Withal,  he  is  not  lukewarm  and  unopinionated.  He  speaks 
his  mind  with  courage,  and  his  judgment  on  many  of  the 
social  and  political  issues  is  trenchant.  He  has  made  listeners 

326  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

marvel  at  the  truth  of  his  predictions.  Example:  He  fore- 
told the  fall  of  Dolfus  and  the  acceptance  of  Hitler's  ulti- 
matum by  the  Czechs.  His  motives  are  humanitarian  and 
constructive.  "With  radio,"  he  says,  "I  have  a  new  weapon 
with  which  to  drive  home  my  belief  in  world  integration 
and  world  understanding." 

Kaltenborn  keeps  his  program  up  to  the  minute  by  read- 
ing, interviewing  the  great  and  near-great,  and  spending 
several  months  each  year  in  those  countries  which  are  seeth- 
ing cauldrons  of  news.  He  speaks  English,  French,  German 
and  Spanish  with  facility. 

Kaltenborn  was  always  interested  in  foreign  doings,  and 
in  1922  WJZ  asked  him  to  conduct  a  quiz  on  foreign  affairs. 
About  the  same  time,  he  began  broadcasting  over  the  gov- 
ernment station  on  Governor's  Island  despite  a  constantly 
recurring  fear  complex  when  facing  the  microphone.  "It  re- 
quired four  months  of  regular  radio  work  to  put  me  at 
my  ease." 

Some  of  the  broader  methods  of  maintaining  strict  impar- 
tiality may  be  noted. 

1.  Listeners  will  have  more  faith  in  the  commentator  if 
he  gives  his  answers  to  questions  of  politics  and  national 
policy,  emphasizing  that  the  judgment  is  his  own. 

2.  He  must  not  lead  the  audience  astray.  In  giving  an 
opinion  he  must  be  honest.  If  information  is  not  available, 
it  is  best  to  say  so.  It  is  better  to  admit  that  an  opinion 
is  a  mere  hazard  or  a  guess,  and  is  not  founded  on  facts. 

3.  Every  question  has   two  sides.   The  light  should  be 
turned  to  the  right  and  to  the  left  if  even  for  a  brief  moment 
to  illuminate  the  subject.  It  is  important  to  show  that  you 
have  considered  both  sides  of  a  case  before  announcing  your 
own  conclusion. 

4.  Reinforce  any  generalization  by  supporting  details.  A 
mere  say-so  is  not  enough.  The  radio  audience  has  its  critical 
groups  as  well  as  those  who  accept  any  assertion. 


5.  To  increase  respect  for  your  own  opinion,  use  quota- 
tions from  authorities. 

6.  The  news  commentator  must  not  presume  he  knows 
it  all.  No  commentator  can  long  hold  his  public  if  he  carries 
an  air  of  self-pretension. 

7.  If  it  is  in  your  power,  avoid  a  contract  which  compels 
you  to  kill  your  commercials  with  your  news  comments. 
It  is  a  fatal  practice  which  may  bring  you  more  money  but 
which  will  eventually  leave  you  poverty-stricken  with  the 
radio  audience.  Gabriel  Heatter  pours  on  Kreml  so  thickly 
that  he  succeeds  in  getting  into  the  listener's  hair. 

Heywood  Broun  made  the  charge  that  the  commentators 
who  expound  the  news  every  evening  are  so  busy  doing 
scripts  or  having  them  prepared  that  they  seldom  get  down 
to  earth  from  their  pent  houses.  Few  of  the  news  com- 
mentators make  any  pretense  of  gathering  news.  For  the 
duration  of  their  contracts  the  men  who  are  first  class  news 
reporters  have  ceased  to  be  good  newspapermen.  Vocal  pro- 
duction has  become  more  paramount  than  factual  repre- 

Interviewing  the  Great  and  the  Near-Great 

The  work  of  interviewing  comes  within  the  scope  of  the 
news  commentator.  This  is  a  particularly  difficult  art  and 
involves  a  distinctly  personal  style.  One  must  understand  the 
man  to  be  interviewed,  as  well  as  the  subject  matter  of  the 
issues  to  be  discussed. 

H.  V.  Kaltenborn  has  shown  a  special  genius  for  inter- 
viewing. His  easy  facility  of  phrase,  and  spontaneity  of 
speech,  and  his  ability  to  make  the  man  or  woman  inter- 
viewed feel  at  ease  before  the  microphone,  makes  Kalten- 
born a  model  interviewer.  He  knows  how  to  extract  informa- 
tion from  the  great  and  near  great.  His  colloquy  with 
Governor  Landon  during  the  Roosevelt  campaign  is  a  gem 
of  its  kind. 

328  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

There  is  no  more  difficult  problem  in  radio  than  that  of 
the  impromptu  interviewer.  The  commentator  will  at  least 
show  some  insight  into  the  subject  to  be  discussed.  Ofttimes 
he  will  select  the  subject.  He  will  stress  the  highlights  and 
create  something  of  balance — a  coordination  in  a  program 
crowded  into  fifteen  minutes  or  less.  The  interview  will  be 
as  much  an  expose  of  the  interviewer  as  of  the  interviewee. 

Important  interviews  require  scripts  in  the  hands  of  both 
parties,  prepared  in  advance.  This  allows  for  very  careful 
editing.  All  this  is  a  matter  of  agreement  between  both 
parties  and  requires  the  most  tactful  approach,  especially 
if  the  person  to  be  interviewed  is  ticklish  about  any  change 
in  his  diction.  Everything  depends  upon  the  reaction  of 
the  interviewee  to  the  microphone.  The  commentator  should 
always  retain  a  speech  manner  that  is  colloquial.  He  may 
likewise  employ  those  ad  lib  touches  that  remove  the  inter- 
view from  the  odium  of  a  mere  reading  lesson. 

The  commentator  must  judge  his  man  with  certain  pur- 
pose in  mind.  First  comes  the  approach.  He  must  gain  his 
trust  and  respect.  This  personal  relationship  will  solve  the 
day.  The  interviewee  himself  must  be  actuated  by  a 
desire  to  satisfy  some  need.  The  commentator  has  the  deli- 
cate task  of  persuading  his  speaker  that  Radio  is  calling. 

There  are  many  devices  for  gaining  the  support  of  the 
interviewee.  The  broadcaster  should  not  touch  on  sensitive 
topics.  His  manner  should  be  informal.  The  one  who  is  to 
be  interviewed  will  be  sure  to  closely  scrutinize  the  radio 
broadcaster  to  determine  how  friendly  he  is  and  how  far  he 
can  be  trusted.  Sometimes  the  little  laugh,  or  a  preliminary 
conversation,  helps  create  the  feeling  of  "rapport."  The 
manner  of  the  radio  interviewer  contributes  much  to  the 
success  of  the  broadcast.  The  commentator's  cheery  word 
of  greeting  tends  to  break  down  the  reserve  and  restraint 
which  may  overcome  the  interviewee.  Praise  often  elicits  the 


most  immediate  response.  It  certainly  is  the  easiest  way  to 
make  your  subject  "thaw  out." 

It  seems  perfectly  obvious  that  the  broadcaster  should 
learn  something  about  the  person  to  be  interviewed  before 
the  interview,  and  yet  this  principle  is  more  often  observed 
in  the  breach  than  in  the  performance. 

Cultivate  an  easy  conversational  tone  instead  of  the  Dis- 
trict Attorney  prosecuting  manner.  Such  a  course  will  mean  a 
smooth  performance,  pleasant  to  the  ears  and  comforting  to 
the  sense.  Remember  your  interviewee  is  not  on  trial.  His 
answers  will  flow  agreeably,  if  you  do  not  pound  at  him. 

Many  a  commentator  fails  dismally  in  interviewing  be- 
cause he  cannot  adapt  himself  to  the  point  of  view  of  the 
person  interviewed.  The  interviewer  should  not  sit  in  ju- 
dicial appraisal,  upon  what  is  said.  He  should  see  things 
through  the  other  man's  glasses  as  early  as  possible  in  the 
interview.  The  program  is  not  a  debate,  but  the  drawing  out 
of  opinion  without  rancor  or  dogmatic  rebuttal. 

Broadcasters  who  hope  to  succeed  in  the  field  of  inter- 
viewing must  master  the  technique  of  questioning.  Some 
of  the  silliest  interviews  come  over  the  air  in  a  series  of 
questions  that  require  "yes"  or  "no"  for  an  answer.  Ques- 
tions which  are  likely  to  bring  about  a  response  unsuitable 
for  radio  ears  are  taboo.  Ask  one  question  at  a  time.  Dorothy 
Thompson  errs  in  this  respect  when  she  gets  so  excited  she 
keeps  on  interrupting.  Another  blunder  made  by  broad- 
casters is  to  repeat  ad  nauseam  what  a  person  has  just  said. 
This  is  a  cute  device  for  stalling  for  time  and  exposing  the 
weakness  of  the  interviewer.  An  interview  is  expected  to 
contribute  to  the  stream  of  thought.  It  is  permissible  to  sum- 
marize, to  clarify  the  thought  and  verify  statements. 

Radio  is  terribly  exacting  in  the  matter  of  pauses.  A  per- 
son is  expected  to  shout  out  an  answer  without  time  to 
think.  If  the  microphone  practice  is  revised  in  this  respect, 
the  interview  will  seem  more  natural,  certainly  reach  the  ears 
of  the  listeners  more  agreeably. 

330  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

How  to  Play  Up  the  Press 

Each  commentator  has  his  own  particular  slants  in  select- 
ing his  material.  An  analysis  discloses,  a  formula  or  method 
that  is  common  to  them  all. 

1.  Select  some  topic  of  general  timeliness  which  will  cap- 
ture the  interest  of  the  listeners. 

2.  Follow  with  a  theme  which  has  its  humorous  angles, 
and  make  a  "direct  hit"  by  virtue  of  your  witty  interpre- 

3.  Next,  by  contrast,  play  on  some  emotional  theme  that 
will  invoke  the  sentiment. 

4.  Return  to  the  more  serious  note  of  an  event  of  dramatic 

5.  Wind  up  the  broadcast  with  a  return  to  a  less  serious 
theme,  re-establishing  a  more  pleasant  frame  of  mind. 

6.  Finally,  end  on  some  cheerful  little  earful  like,  "So 
long,  until  tomorrow,"  or  "Until  tomorrow,  Toastie  and  I 
will  say,  Cheerio!"  Some  end  on  a  wisecrack,  a  quotation, 
an  aphorism  or  a  rhetorical  sentence  like  that  of  a  Walter 
Winchell  broadcast:   "Your  country  had  a  secession,  a  de- 
pression and  a  recession,  but  it  never  had  an  oppression." 

Speaking  the  News 

The  successful  news  commentator  must  have  the  ability 
to  write  the  news,  but  also  to  speak  the  news.  Harlan  Eugene 
Reid  epitomized  his  own  experience  as  a  commentator  in 
this  way:  "The  news  commentator  reads,  studies  and  writes 
all  day.  Then  he  delivers  his  stuff  in  fifteen  minutes  at  night 
and  tries  to  make  the  world  think  that  it  is  extemporaneous. 
If  he  has  written  poorly,  he  may  save  the  day  by  an  excellent 
delivery.  If  he  has  a  poor  delivery,  God  help  him." 

The  commentators  have  the  additional  problem  of  re- 
writing the  news  in  their  own  peculiar  radio  style  of  speech. 


The  staccato  sentences  of  Walter  Winchell  are  suited  to 
his  brand  of  sensational  news  thrusts.  H.  V.  Kaltenborn  car- 
ries more  dignity  and  weight  in  his  discourse.  His  sentences 
are  varied,  well  balanced,  and  allow  for  smoother  rhythms 
in  speech. 

Lowell  Thomas  has  a  freshness  and  simplicity  of  style  that 
can  be  easily  understood.  Boake  Carter's  manuscript  might 
sound  pretty  silly  if  read  by  another.  Some  critic  clocked 
Carter  during  a  fifteen-minute  broadcast  and  discovered  that 
he  began  sixty-eight  sentences  with  "and"  and  besides  Carter 
interlauded  his  sentences  with  repetitions  of  "so's"  and 

A  few  rough  notes  is  all  that  Kaltenborn  brings  with  him 
to  the  studio.  He  picks  out  the  most  important  news  stories, 
and  the  rest  is  left  to  his  magnificent  gift  of  diction  and 
his  power  to  picturize. 

Sterling  Fischer,  Director  of  Talks  for  CBS,  presents  this 
picture  of  Kaltenborn:  "He  speaks  entirely  from  scribbled 
notes  scrawled  on  old  envelopes,  or  a  couple  of  scraps  of 
memo  paper  spread  out  on  the  table.  This  will  give  him 
specific  material  for  a  half  hour  talk." 

Raymond  Gram  Swing,  a  serious  liberal,  has  had  various 
posts  with  newspapers.  In  1936  he  became  commentator  for 
WOR  and  rose  to  public  favor  as  a  sincere  and  unaffected 
speaker  who  relied  on  the  factual  rather  than  the  hysterical. 
He  never  faces  the  mike  without  a  script  and  avoids  the 
error  of  talking  down  to  his  audience. 

Arthur  Hale  was  tried  out  in  New  York,  months  before 
his  radio  debut.  As  "Confidentially  Yours,"  he  is  supposed 
to  have  the  scoops  of  Trans  Radio  ready  for  delivery.  About 
one  hundred  correspondents  supply  items,  and  are  paid 
anywhere  from  five  dollars  to  one  hundred  dollars  for  the 
news  they  provide  and  are  said  to  be  located  all  over  the 
country.  Some  of  them  are  ex-cabinet  officers,  ready  to  sup- 
ply choice  items. 

332  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

The  news  commentator  as  a  rule  does  not  seek  for  literary 
effects.  His  art  is  that  of  colloquial  speech.  Too  much  formal- 
ism would  destroy  that  intimate  touch  of  the  commentator 
with  the  listener.  The  commentator  appeals  to  the  audience 
as  a  living  personality  close  to  the  heart  of  things.  A  pedantic 
style  removes  him  from  the  popular  sphere. 

Guiding  Rules  for  the  News   Commentator 

The  successful  commentator  who  has  mastered  the  details 
of  his  art  can  readily  adapt  his  experiences  to  radio. 

The  Editor  Emeritus  of  The  New  York  Times,  the  late 
John  H.  Finley,  set  forth  in  an  address  before  the  South- 
western Journalism  Congress  shortly  before  his  death:  "The 
editor  must  have  a  glimpse  into  all  fields  of  human  knowl- 
edge and  achievement.  He  must  also  be  aware  of  the  great 
abysses  of  human  ignorance  which  no  editorial  Marcus  Cur- 
tius  can  close,  however  sacrificially  noble  his  purpose.  He 
must  not  only  know  something  and  everybody,  but  know 
where  to  get  the  everything  that  is  known  about  anything/' 

The  editorialist  of  the  air  must  follow  the  same  rules. 
The  news  commentator  must  know  the  truth  as  well  as  it 
can  be  known,  and  then  know  how  to  tell  it.  It  is  more  and 
more  to  the  vocal  newspaper  and  less  and  less  to  be  a  propa- 
gandist. To  appraise  the  news  in  terms  of  human  values  is 
the  great  task  of  the  radio  news  commentator. 

The  following  summary  is  meant  to  be  merely  suggestive 
of  the  requirements  that  mark  the  more  successful  broad- 

i.  A  wise  selection  of  the  headlines  in  the  news  that  will 
strike  the  average  interest.  Everybody  cannot  be  interested 
in  everything.  The  trained  newspaperman  does  not  find  it  a 
formidable  task  to  select  from  the  UP  and  foreign  cable  re- 
ports those  items  that  will  command  attention.  This  means 
that  some  fifteen  thousand  words  must  be  boiled  down  to 


approximately  three  thousand  words  that  will  count  with  the 
radio  audience,  spoken  at  the  rate  of  one  hundred  and  sev- 
enty words  per  minute  for  about  fourteen  minutes. 

2.  The  telling  of  the  news  quickly,  clearly,  completely 
and  accurately.  This  is  problem  enough. 

3.  A  style  that  is  individual,  with  a  vocabulary  not  forced 
or  stilted. 

4.  An  interpretative  touch  in  affairs,  that  is  notably  free 
from  prejudice. 

5.  Explanatory  details  that  will  increase  the  interest  of 
the  listener  and  help  him  to  understand  what  is  being  pic- 

6.  The  trick  of  condensing  without  missing  important 
and  interesting  details. 

7.  An  ability  to  select  the  less  important  items  that  reflect 
the  human  side  of  the  news.  These  are  equivalent  to  the 
features  of  a  printed  newspaper.  The  bare,  brief  terse  para- 
graphs of  the  printed  newspaper  often  become   the  lead 
article  of  radio.  The  long,  dry,  routine  stories  may  demand 
very  brief  mention. 

8.  A  sense  of  proportion  in  the  news.  The  general  news 
commentator  does  not  harp  on  any  one  field  to  the  exclusion 
of  others.  He  speaks  for  a  large  audience  whose  varied  in- 
terests may  not  be  denied. 

9.  A  sense  of  humor.  The  successful  commentator  is  able 
to  glean  the  laugh  from  the  foibles  of  men  and  women  as  in- 
dicated by  their  doings  from  press  reports.  The  radio  com- 
mentator is  the  accurate  reporter  plus  the  genial  commenta- 
tor. Lowell  Thomas  said,  "Talks  should  be  sprinkled  with 
nonsense,  with  here  and  there  a  thrill,  perhaps  a  sob.  My 
talks  are  planned  as  entertainment,  not  education." 

10.  A  sense  of  timing  is  important  to  fill  the  full  period 
assigned.  Some  commentators  make  their  scripts  the  right 
length  by  having  a  couple  of  pages  of  short  fillers  for  use  at 
the  end. 

334  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

1 1 .  An  understanding  of  the  taboos  of  radio  news  report- 
ing. A  newspaper  man  can  say  things  in  print  which  as  a 
commentator  he  would  not  dare  discuss  on  the  air.  All  this  is 
a  matter  of  good  taste.  A  radio  audience  consists  largely  of 
women  and  children,  the  husband  and  other  members  of 
the  family.  The  listeners  exercise  a  definite  censorship.  If 
any  class  of  listeners  are  offended,  they  are  bound  to  make  a 
protest.  Gabriel  Heatter  recommends:   "There  are  ways  of 
handling  stories  with  the  edge  of  scandal.  Never  let  it  get 
out  of  hand.  Treat  it  from  an  inoffensive  angle.  People  are 
divided.  The  broadcaster  must  exercise  finesse  in  dealing 
with  such  scandals  as  that  of  Mary  Astor  and  George  S.  Kauf- 
man, the  escapade  of  Eleanor  Holm  Jarret,  or  the  adventures 
of  Jimmy  Walker.  There  is  always  a  way  to  tone  down  the 
vicious  element  in  the  news." 

12.  Flexibility  of  voice.  The  newscaster  should  be  master 
of  modulation.  The  ear  is  sensitive  to  changes  in  melody, 
volume  and  emotional  color.  The  news  can  be  recited  in  a 
calm,  matter-of-fact  way  and  it  may  also  be  spoken  to  lead 
you  up  dramatically  to  the  climax  in  such  a  way  that  when 
you  get  there  your  pulse  will  be  up  around  one  hundred  and 
twenty.  By  the  tone  of  his  voice,  the  commentator  may  tone 
down  or  exaggerate  the  import  of  the  news  in  the  same  way 
as  the  headlines  in  the  press. 

The  New  School  of  Gossip  Commentators 

Walter  Winchell  is  the  father  of  the  school  of  gossip  com- 
mentators. His  enormous  success  is  based  on  the  human  in- 
stinct to  pry  into  the  intimate  affairs  of  people  and  live 
vicariously  on  the  experience  of  others.  Winchell  was  able 
to  prove  that  even  the  most  trivial  facts  hold  an  extraordi- 
nary fascination  for  the  listener. 

It  is  in  the  expansive  hinterland  of  America,  away  from 
the  big  cities,  that  Winchell  has  his  greatest  vogue.  His 


words  are  literally  eaten  up  in  the  sticks.  His  comments 
touch  on  all  classes  of  society.  No  one  is  safe  from  his  fer- 
reting examination,  sports  champions,  gangsters,  actors,  mo- 
tion picture  stars,  the  playboys  of  society,  bubble  dancers, 
the  social  climbers  and  the  debutantes,  the  literary  lights 
and  the  politicians. 

All  of  this  gossip  comes  over  the  air  with  unquestioned 
authority.  Tradition  has  grown  up  that  if  Winchell  says  it, 
the  thing  must  be  true.  A  lawyer  skilled  in  libel  practice, 
bluepencils  everything  Walter  broadcasts  before  it  goes  on 
the  air  and,  like  a  man  who  hates  to  keep  a  secret,  permits 
America  to  look  in  on  everything  that  he  sees  or  learns  about 
everybody's  life. 

No  one  has  estimated  the  number  which  constitutes 
Winchell's  radio  audience.  His  listeners  probably  measure 
up  to  that  abused  adjective,  "vast."  His  venture  in  radio 
parallels  his  success  in  journalism.  He  is  credited  with  draw- 
ing a  third  of  the  circulation  of  the  Daily  Mirror  (six  hun- 
dred thousand)  and  his  syndicated  column  appears  in  more 
than  a  hundred  newspapers  which  have  an  estimated  circu- 
lation of  seven  million  two  hundred  and  fifty  thousand.  His 
Jergen's  Journal  now  in  its  tenth  year,  is  one  of  the  oldest  on 
the  air  under  one  sponsorship.  Its  current  Crossley  rating 
is  twelve  which  is  the  top  for  newscasters  as  compared  to 
Lowell  Thomas'  Summer  Time  rating  of  seven. 

Winchell  speaks  as  he  writes,  tersely.  The  air  is  arrested 
by  his  crisp  flash  of:  "Good  Evening  Mr.  and  Mrs.  North 
America  and  all  the  ships  at  sea."  A  slightly  nasal  tone  mixed 
with  breathy  quality  impels  the  listeners'  excitement  over 
the  disclosure  of  hitherto  dark  secrets.  A  personal  style, 
arresting,  with  answers  to  those  who  write  to  him  personally. 

"Earth  shaking  announcements,"  William  P.  McAvoy  calls 
them.  "A  lot  of  them  have  been  printed,  most  of  them  have 
little  significance  and  you  can  read  any  of  them  next  morning 
without  raising  either  your  temperature  or  blood-pressure." 

336  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

Winchell  talks  about  two  hundred  words  a  minute  when 
he  broadcasts. 

"Do  you  know  why  I  go  so  fast?"  he  once  confessed  as 
though  he  enjoyed  the  joke  himself.  "If  I  talked  slowly, 
people  would  find  out  what  I  was  saying  and  remember  how 
dull  it  was." 

At  times  Winchell's  style  is  too  obviously  clever  and 
affected.  He  forces  epigram  and  overdoes  his  balanced  sen- 
tence. "Americanism  is  not  using  a  flagstaff  as  a  blackjack." 
"America  is  not  playing  'The  Star  Spangled  Banner'  and 
drowning  out  the  voice  of  reason."  "Americanism  is  not 
talking  of  justice  when  your  fellow  American  needs  justice." 

His  peculiar  genius  is  in  giving  his  "air  column"  the  touch 
of  dignity  by  espousal  of  social  causes,  his  respect  for  the 
downtrodden  and  the  abused;  scallions  for  the  villains  and 
orchids  for  the  heroes. 

How  does  Walter  act  before  the  microphone?  An  intimate 
study  of  him  was  made  by  his  friend,  William  P.  McAvoy: 
"With  his  hat  on  the  back  of  his  head,  his  coat  off,  his  shirt 
open,  his  tie  loosened,  he  works  his  sound  effects  for  tele- 
graph and  wireless  messages  while  he  shouts  into  the  micro- 
phone his  'dots  and  dashes  with  lots  of  flashes  from  border 
to  border  and  coast  to  coast/  His  nervous  excitement  ex- 
hausts everybody  around  the  studio,  and  after  twelve  min- 
utes of  this  machine-gun  delivery,  he  collapses  like  a  rag 

Winchell  has  a  long  way  to  go  before  his  radio  decline.  He 
has  a  straight  fifty-two  week  contract  at  four  thousand  dollars 
per.  It  may  be  that  time  will  come  when  it  will  be  possible 
to  use  the  epitaph  prepared  for  Winchell  by  a  critic  and  ap- 
proved by  Walter  himself:  "Here  lies  Walter  Winchell — At 
last  the  dirt's  on  him." 

In  the  field  of  movie-gossip  Jimmy  Fidler  has  attained 
a  vogue  which  reflects  the  era  of  movie-star  worship.  His 
catch  phrase  "And  I  do  mean  you!"  has  become  a  by-word 


to  approximately  twenty  million  listeners.  He  babbles  about 
men  and  women  on  the  screen,  opens  up  the  scandals  of 
Hollywood  and  releases  the  choice  bits  of  human  frailty 
to  which  Hollywood  is  subject.  Twice  a  week  for  fifteen 
minutes  he  is  on  the  air  for  Proctor  and  Gamble.  His  tongue 
is  full  of  sharp  rebuke,  a  tendency  which  his  sponsors  have 

Here  are  the  other  items  which  made  his  competitors  in 
the  key-hole  peeping  business  sad  and  unhappy: 

"Flash!  I  am  about  to  reveal  that  Clark  Gable  and  his 
wife  will  announce  their  intention  to  secure  a  divorce  to- 
morrow and  I  will  not  only  divulge  that  but  I  will  name  the 
place  where  they  will  meet  to  settle  their  financial  affairs 
and  the  lawyers  who  will  represent  each." 

Jimmy  Fidler  is  one  of  the  more  than  five  thousand  pro- 
fessional gossipers  who  keep  the  world  informed  about  the 
doings  of  Hollywood's  greatest.  He  broadcasts  over  NBC 
each  Tuesday  evening,  writes  a  daily  news-and-gossip  col- 
umn in  the  interests  of  a  cough  sponsor,  and  spends  the 
balance  of  his  time  making  his  competitors'  faces  an  apoplec- 
tic hue  by  scooping  them  with  astonishing  regularity.  Where 
and  how  he  gets  his  information  is  his  own  secret.  Rumor 
gives  him  a  spy  organization  second  to  none  in  Hollywood. 

Women  gossipers  of  the  air  are  represented  by  Hedda 
Hopper,  the  fifth  wife  of  the  oft-wedded  and  now  deceased 
De  Wolf  Hopper.  Hedda  is  rated  less  accurate  than  most  of 
the  gossips,  and  is  famed  for  her  rough  talks.  In  1939  Hedda 
was  signed  up  on  the  recommendation  of  the  M.  G.  M. 
publicity  office  and  lost  no  time  in  delving  into  the  careers 
of  the  Hollywood  stars.  She  is  the  successor  of  Louella  Par- 
sons, but  much  more  vigorous  in  method.  "You  can't  fool 
this  old  bag,"  she  says  impulsively. 

And  so  women  remain  the  target  for  man's  inquisition. 
The  world  is  ever  ready  to  probe  into  the  inner  secrets  of 
their  neighbors  and  thus  satisfy  the  human  instinct  for  gossip 
and  personalia  held  sacred. 


Radio  Foreign  News  Correspondents 

Radio  has  brought  on  an  insatiable  demand  for  expert 
commentaries,  interviews  with  men  in  power,  eye-witness 
accounts  and  the  direct  speeches  of  dictators,  foreign  minis- 
ters and  men  who  rule. 

When  technical  improvement  made  possible  instant  trans- 
mission of  the  news  across  the  seas  by  the  human  voice,  the 
Radio  Correspondent  came  into  being.  The  dean  of  them  all 
is  Caesar  Saerchinger  who  earned  for  himself  the  sobriquet 
of  "Radio's  First  Ambassador."  For  seven  years  he  served 
NBC  as  European  representative,  to  resign  in  1937  only 
because  the  job  seemed  to  offer  no  future.  Had  he  waited 
another  year,  he  would  have  found  his  position  greatly  aug- 
mented in  importance  and  responsibility. 

He  was  succeeded  by  Edward  R.  Morrow.  As  a  radio  cor- 
respondent Morrow  had  three  great  advantages  over  news- 
paper reporters  on  the  scene:  i.  He  beat  the  newspapers  by 
hours;  2.  He  reached  millions  who  depend  on  provincial 
newspapers  for  their  foreign  news;  3.  He  was  able  to  write 
his  own  headlines  since  he  emphasized  what  he  wished. 

The  broadcast  of  speeches  from  America  to  England  dur- 
ing the  period  of  1930  was  practically  nil.  The  actual  speech 
that  inaugurated  speeches  west  and  east  was  the  first  in- 
augural address  of  Franklin  D.  Roosevelt.  His  voice  cap- 
tured the  imagination  of  the  British. 

On  the  initiative  of  the  British  Broadcasting  Corporation, 
arrangements  were  made  for  a  series  of  talks  by  prominent 
Americans  to  be  relayed  to  England  alternately  by  CBS 
and  NBS.  The  first  of  the  series,  "American  Points  of  View," 
included  such  speakers  as  Secretary  Perkins  and  Pearl  Buck. 

An  exchange  series  dealing  with  the  interpretation  of 
the  news  was  also  organized  by  CBS  under  the  title  of 
"Transatlantic  Bulletin."  The  import  of  these  broadcasts 
was  to  convey  an  impartial  analysis  of  political  trends  and 


developments  both  of  England  and  the  United  States.  On  this 
side  of  the  water  we  began  to  hear  distinguished  British 
journalists  and  commentators  like  Raymond  Gram  Swing, 
Vernon  Bartlet  and  Sir  Frederick  Whyte. 

International  news  broadcasting  reached  its  highest  peak 
during  that  tense  fortnight  when  the  world  felt  itself  on 
the  brink  of  new  cataclysm.  The  speed  and  thoroughness 
with  which  radio  brought  to  America  complete  news  of  the 
duel  between  Chamberlain  and  Hitler,  remains  one  of  the 
marvels  of  news  communication. 

One  has  but  to  study  the  chronology  of  events  to  under- 
stand the  complexities.  Those  hectic  days,  stations  stayed 
on  the  air  twenty-four  hours.  The  story  of  the  crisis  first 
occupied  the  foreign  radio  correspondent  when  in  July, 
1938,  the  British  government  decided  to  mediate  to  break 
the  deadlock  between  the  Czechoslovak  government  and  the 
Sudetan  Germans.  Lord  Runciman  was  sent  to  Prague  to 
stave  off  German  intervention. 

The  second  chapter  of  the  swift  moving  radio  narrative 
was  laid  at  Berchtesgaden  whither  the  British  Prime  Min- 
ister had  flown  to  find  out  directly  from  Hitler  if  there  was 
any  hope  of  saving  peace.  By  September  14,  1938,  it  must 
be  remembered,  the  German  troops  were  already  at  the 
Czech  border  threatening  invasion. 

The  trials  and  tribulations  of  a  radio  correspondent  can- 
not be  underestimated.  Newsweek  (December  17,  1939)  gives 
a  detailed  report  of  William  L.  Shirer  of  the  strenuosities 
of  the  work:  He  traveled  two  thousand  nine  hundred  and 
fifty  miles  (practically  the  distance  between  New  York  and 
Los  Angeles)  by  air,  train,  truck,  bus,  car,  and  horse-drawn 
army  carts.  He  averaged  two  hours  sleep  daily,  mostly  in  his 
clothes,  and  ate  sandwiches,  hot  dogs,  and  coffee  until — 'Td 
rather  starve  than  face  them  one  more  day."  He  had  his  best 
meals  with  the  Czech  and  German  troops  in  the  field:  "It 
was  warm  and  wholesome  (and)  trading  my  American  ciga- 

340  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

rettes  against  their  food  was  a  fair  bargain.  American  ciga- 
rettes were  worth  their  weight  in  gold  to  them."  German  was 
the  universal  language. 

Despite  these  difficulties,  Shirer  managed  to  contribute  his 
part  to  the  two  thousand  eight  hundred  and  forty-seven 
minutes  of  European  broadcast  carried  by  CBS:  "I've  bel- 
lowed so  long  into  the  microphone  and  bad  telephones  that 
my  doctor  says  that  if  I  don't  keep  my  mouth  shut  for  a  few 
days  my  voice  will  be  gone  entirely." 

Max  Jordan  similarly  went  through  rigors.  Although  he 
suffered  from  a  cold  he  made  forty  trips  by  plane  through- 
out Europe  and  was  obliged  to  hire  a  substitute  to  speak 
for  him. 

Jordan  disclaims  any  inside  track  on  his  scoops.  The  four 
power  pact  was  signed  at  seven  P.M.  New  York  time  and 
forty-five  minutes  later,  and  a  half-hour  ahead  of  CBS,  NBC 
had  the  news  on  the  air.  This  is  the  impartial  attitude 
which  should  characterize  commentators  who,  in  the  phrase 
of  Caesar  Saerchinger  are  merely  "eavesdropping  on  his- 

The  third  chapter  covers  the  events  at  Godesburg  where 
Hitler  handed  Chamberlain  a  map  indicating  the  territory 
he  intended  to  occupy  and  announced  his  intention  to  march 
on  Czechoslovakia. 

The  next  period  is  crowded  with  events  that  led  to  the 
pact  of  Munich.  Hitler  unconditionally  rejects  the  ultima- 
tum of  the  Czechs;  Britain  declares  her  purpose  to  associate 
with  France  and  Russia  in  resisting  invasion  of  Cz'ech  terri- 
tory; Hitler  makes  a  violent  speech  of  denunciation;  France 
and  England  begin  frantic  preparations  for  war;  the  Little 
Entente,  Rumania  and  Jugo  Slavia  mobilize;  President 
Roosevelt  makes  a  fervent  appeal;  the  "last,  last"  efforts  are 
made  by  Sir  Horace  Wilson  to  halt  the  German  armies  and 
finally  a  plea  is  made  to  Mussolini  to  use  his  influence  on  his 
fellow  dictator. 


During  that  fitful  period  from  September  loth  to  Octo- 
ber ist  the  networks  were  put  on  twenty-four  hour  duty  and 
on  many  occasions  remained  open  throughout  the  night. 
From  the  executive  standpoint  the  situation  demanded  the 
marshalling  of  experts  both  here  and  abroad.  Programs 
were  frequently  broken  into  with  bulletins.  As  the  inter- 
national crisis  increased,  NBC  and  CBS  broadcasts  spread 
over  wide  points  of  origin.  On  some  succeeding  days  the 
news  bulleting  and  resumes  were  coming  from  as  many  as 
five  places  on  the  European  map. 

America  became  accustomed  to  the  cue  spoken  by  Kalten- 
born:  "Calling  Ed.  Morrow  .  .  .  Come  in  Ed.  Morrow." 
Kaltenborn  phoned  Prague  periodically  and  enumerated 
first  hand  reports  from  Maurice  Hindus  on  the  man-in- 
the-street  reactions. 

The  man  of  the  hour  was  H.  V.  Kaltenbom.  The  gray- 
haired  veteran  of  the  airways  practically  lived  at  the  studio 
during  this  period.  He  spoke  about  two  hours  each  day. 

In  this  marathon  of  achievement,  Kaltenborn  is  regarded 
as  one  who  taught  Americans  more  about  European  events 
in  those  twenty  days  than  most  of  them  had  learned  in  a 
lifetime.  Kaltenborn's  analyses,  while  not  always  brilliant, 
were  facile  and  illuminating.  A  man  cannot  always  be  a 
prophet.  His  occasional  lapses  are  to  be  forgiven.  He  be- 
lieved until  the  last  that  Chamberlain  was  a  man  of  honor. 
He  interpreted  Hitler's  final  broadcast  as  a  plea  for  peace 
instead  of  the  pronouncement  of  doom  on  President  Benes 
of  the  Czech  nation.  This  slip-up  caused  Kaltenborn  to 
change  his  opinion  on  his  very  next  talk. 

The  burden  for  European  broadcasts  rests  largely  on  the 
representatives  of  the  networks  stationed  abroad.  With  Lon- 
don as  his  headquarters,  Morrow  was  acting  as  European  Di- 
rector for  CBS,  and  in  a  similar  capacity  in  Berlin  was  Max 
Jordan  of  NBC. 

The  post  of  European  Director  requires  more  than  usual 

342  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

gifts  and  experience.  Some  brief  biographical  notes  may  be 
permitted  here. 

Morrow  is  a  South  Carolinian  born,  still  in  his  early 
thirties.  He  got  an  insight  into  European  affairs  as  Assistant 
Director  of  the  Institute  of  International  Education.  In 
1935  CBS  enlisted  him  as  Director  of  Talks  which  afforded 
executive  training  in  apportioning  time  space  for  political 
broadcasts  during  the  Presidential  campaign  of  President 
Roosevelt.  The  toga  of  Saerchinger  fell  upon  Morrow  when 
the  dean  of  European  radio  correspondents  resigned  in  1937. 

William  Shirer,  assistant  to  Morrow,  is  a  former  Chicago 
Tribune  newspaperman  who  came  to  CBS  after  service  with 
Universal  News. 

Max  Jordan,  a  former  INS  correspondent,  holds  the  de- 
gree of  Ph.  D.  from  the  University  of  Jena,  and  is  accredited 
with  keen  political  understanding  of  contemporary  Europe. 
His  headquarters  are  in  Basle.  Fred  Bate,  established  as  the 
London  agent  for  NBC  brings  to  his  work  the  background 
of  twenty  years'  experience  in  business  and  newspaper  en- 
terprise. He  was  formerly  secretary  for  Owen  D.  Young's 
Reparation  Committee. 

The  Mutual  Network  Representative  is  John  Steele,  who 
was  formerly  chief  of  the  Chicago  Tribune,  London  Bureau, 
from  1919  to  1935. 

The  Director's  assignments  are  not  restricted,  for  he  must 
be  wherever  he  can  serve  best.  His  is  no  sinecure,  making 
jumps  from  city  to  city  with  a  suitcase,  making  arrangements 
for  open  circuits,  breaking  down  the  barriers  of  officialdom, 
consulting  radio-director  generals,  interviewing  the  man-of- 
the  moment,  contacting  foreign  chancelleries,  engaging  the 
best  available  commentators  and  always  keeping  in  touch 
with  New  York  office  by  Transatlantic  telephone  and  pre- 
pared at  any  moment  to  step  into  the  breach. 

Allocating  all  his  forces  on  the  continent,  Morrow  ar- 
ranged to  have  William  Shirer  at  Geneva.  John  Whittaker 


of  the  Chicago  Tribune  was  stationed  in  Paris.  Kenneth 
Downs  of  the  International  News  Service.  In  Berlin,  White- 
leather  of  the  Associated  Press  and  Pierre  Huss  of  INS, 
Mathew  Halton  of  the  Toronto  Star,  the  distinguished 
British  Sir  Frederick  White. 

The  rival  networks  were  not  to  be  outdone  in  their  prep- 
arations. With  indefatigable  skill,  Max  Jordan  and  his  as- 
sistant Bate  made  arrangements  to  broadcast:  from  Prague, 
the  commentary  of  Karl  von  Wiegand,  correspondent  of 
INS;  also  from  Prague,  Walter  B.  Kerr,  correspondent  of  the 
New  York  Herald  Tribune;  from  Berlin,  Walter  Deuell  of 
the  Chicago  Daily  News;  from  London,  Gordon  Lenox  of 
the  London  Daily  Telegraph. 

Morrow  himself  up  to  1935  participated  personally  in  some 
thirty-five  broadcasts  and  arranged  a  total  of  one  hundred 
and  fifty-one  short  wave  programs  from  European  centers.  It 
is  difficult  to  realize  the  strain  of  making  a  personal  broadcast 
at  seven  a.m.  and  working  throughout  the  night  until  the 
next  morning  at  six  a.m.  Yet  this  was  precisely  the  routine 
of  Morrow  on  September  28,  1938,  when  from  London  he 
connected  CBS  with  Frank  Grandin  in  Paris,  introduced 
commentator  from  the  House  of  Commons,  arranged  a  pick- 
up from  Prague,  induced  Pierre  Bedard  to  interpret  the 
speech  of  Premier  Daladier,  swung  to  Berlin  to  give  Wil- 
liam Shirer  the  outlet  to  America,  returned  once  more  to 
Prague  for  the  comment  of  Vincent  Sheean,  and  then 
introduced  the  Archbishop  of  Canterbury  and  Stephan  King- 
Hall  and  finally  wound  up  his  day  with  summaries  from 
Paris  and  Czechoslovakia. 

The  influence  of  the  foreign  radio  correspondent  is  not 
yet  quite  determined.  Some  believe  that  his  influence  on 
America's  reaction  to  foreign  news  is  more  vital  than  all  the 
newspaper  editorial  judgments  combined.  A  certain  amount 
of  discretion  is  necessary  in  broadcasting  from  Europe.  If 
the  network  does  not  keep  itself  personna  grata  with  the 

344  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

foreign  offices,  it  will  find  itself  in  hot  water.  The  radio  for- 
eign correspondents  must  be  mindful  that  there  will  be 
other  days  when  they  will  need  cooperation.  They  must  be- 
ware of  prodding  the  sore  spots. 

Such  a  post  requires  utmost  diplomacy  without  a  sur- 
render to  the  lie.  Otherwise  the  commentator  would  be 
just  a  tool  for  foreign  propaganda.  In  times  of  crisis  the 
voice  of  the  foreign  correspondent  may  be  constrained  by 
government  officials.  The  news  broadcasts  from  foreign  gov- 
ernments in  themselves  cannot  be  trusted.  During  the 
Czech oslo vakian  crisis,  WOR  made  recordings  of  foreign 
short  wave  broadcasts  from  foreign  governments  and  then 
rebroadcast  them  side-by-side.  There  can  be  no  more  elo- 
quent evidence  of  the  difficulty  of  getting  at  the  truth. 

Special  Events 

Special  events  are  divided  into  four  groups: 

1.  Sporting  events. 

2.  News  coverage. 

3.  Civic  enterprise. 

4.  Novelties  in  special  events  broadcasts. 

In  times  of  emergency  the  microphone  reporter  is  on  the 
scene  to  perform  a  public  service.  The  networks  have  per- 
formed a  signal  service  in  sending  calls  for  blood  donors, 
making  appeals  for  food  and  medical  supplies  during  emer- 
gencies and  advancing  the  campaign  for  safety  in  driving. 
Under  this  head,  too,  come  the  broadcasts  of  speeches  of 
celebrities  including  those  of  the  president  of  the  United 
States.  These  programs  generally  can  be  arranged  for  in 
advance.  Novelty  broadcasts  are  always  extremely  appealing 
because  they  break  through  the  familiar  routine  and  bring 
to  the  listener  a  sense  of  the  ludicrous.  In  addition,  they 
do  not  cost  much,  and  yet  command  the  largest  audiences. 

The  networks  have  performed  a  signal  public  service  in 


the  organization  of  a  special  News  and  Special  Events  Divi- 
sion. Included  under  this  general  title  are  news  reports  at 
the  scene,  descriptions  of  significant  local,  national  and  in- 
ternational happenings  and  broadcasts  of  the  speeches  of  men 
and  women  in  the  public  eye.  In  addition  this  division 
concerns  itself  with  the  announcing  of  major  sports  events. 

Let  us  glance  at  a  typical  network  set-up  to  handle  the 
news.  At  NBC  the  work  is  co-ordinated  by  a  Director  who 
commands  the  services  of  division  officers  in  San  Francisco, 
Hollywood,  Denver,  Cleveland,  Chicago,  Pittsburgh,  Sche- 
nectady  and  Washington.  The  Special  Events  Department 
of  a  network  functions  like  a  metropolitan  newspaper.  Tele- 
types provide  them  with  the  sending  apparatus  and  a  power 
plant.  A  pack  transmitter  that  fits  on  a  man's  back  is  used 
at  such  spots  that  the  truck  cannot  reach.  The  engineer 
straps  the  transmitter  on  his  back,  runs  to  the  scene  and 
short-waves  his  story  back  to  the  truck  where  it  is  re-broadcast 
and  short-waved  to  the  big  station  whence  it  is  relayed  to  the 

The  newspaper  man  has  an  advantage  over  the  radio  re- 
porter. He  has  only  to  be  on  the  spot,  find  out  what  goes  on 
and  then  telephone,  or  telegraph  the  City  Editor.  The  radio 
reporter  must  have  his  portable  short-wave  equipment,  for 
he  is  forbidden  by  the  FCC  regulations  from  phoning  his 
headquarters  from  the  scene  or  to  have  his  voice  put  over 
the  air  by  the  ordinary  phone  circuit.  An  exception  was 
made  during  the  Hindenburg  explosion  at  Lakehurst,  N.  J., 
when  a  radio  announcer  rushed  into  the  only  available  tele- 
phone booth  and  held  his  ground  until  NBC's  sound  equip- 
ment was  rushed  by  plane  and  truck  from  Philadelphia. 

The  "Seeing  Eye"  and  "Hearing  Ear" 

Many  special  events  announcers  have  not  advanced 
beyond  the  primary  stage  in  the  art  of  oral  description.  A 

346  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

trained  newspaperman,  able  to  write  vividly  about  an  event 
he  observes,  may  fail  utterly  in  his  oral  style.  For  the  broad- 
caster, oral  skills  indeed  are  more  important.  Once  he  is 
on  the  spot  the  special  news  broadcaster  is  on  his  own.  His 
problem  is  complex.  He  is  to  convey  a  moving  picture  in 
words  equivalent  to  the  motion  picture  camera.  The  com- 
mentator is  as  good  as  his  words.  Such  an  effort  requires  a 
vocabulary  which  kindles  the  imagination. 

A  sparse  vocabulary  cannot  stir  a  spark  in  the  listener. 
The  piling  up  of  hackneyed  adjectives,  and  continued  repe- 
tition of  the  same  word,  defeats  its  own  purpose.  The  com- 
mentator cannot  overcome  the  lack  of  his  own  imagination 
by  the  abuse  of  superlatives  such  as  "grand,"  "wonderful," 

One  would  not  suspect  a  British  announcer  of  being  de- 
ficient in  the  King's  English.  Yet  the  broadcast  of  the 
Coronation  of  George  VI  found  the  British  announcers 
hopelessly  obsessed  by  such  favorite  phrases  as  "You  wouldn't 
believe!"  This  is  all  perfectly  wonderful!"  One  annoyed 
American  counted  some  dozen  utterances  of  "This  magnifi- 
cent spectacle!" 

The  British  are  accustomed  to  long  pauses.  Our  ears  are 
used  to  swift  continuity,  no  breaks,  plenty  of  ad  libbing, 
and  a  pause  of  more  than  twenty  seconds  leads  the  listener 
to  believe  the  wire  has  gone  "dead." 

Nothing  more  easily  exposes  the  emptiness  of  a  news  re- 
porter than  his  groping  for  words  at  a  time  when  the  listener 
is  keyed  to  the  situation.  The  spot  announcer  should  be 
guided  by  the  adage:  "Words  are  like  parachutes — they  are 
of  no  use  unless  they  open  up."  The  elementary  principles 
of  description  are  more  often  ignored  by  the  broadcaster. 
Only  a  few  of  these  principles  are  here  set  down  in  their 
application  to  broadcasting. 

i.  Oral  description  requires  accurate  observation.  The 
primary  function  of  the  special  talents  announcers  is  to  in- 


form.  The  "seeing  eye"  translates  the  scene  to  the  "hearing 
ear"  who,  what,  where,  when,  why.  The  broadcaster's  mental 
impression  must  be  clear  before  he  talks  into  the  micro- 
phone what  he  sees  and  feels,  so  that  the  listener  gets  an 
accurate  picture  of  what  you  read  over  with  clarity  and  the 
rest  is  easier. 

2.  It  is  best  at  first  to  present  such  a  picture  or  impression 
as  one  would  get  from  a  first  glance.  One  gives  attention  to 
the  mass.  From  general  impressions,  pass  to  the  most  striking, 
interesting  and  significant  details.  Almost  by  intuition  the 
trained  observer  decides  which  are  the  more  commanding 
things   worth   talking   about.    Emphasis   requires    that   im- 
portant matters  stand  out  and  that  minor  details  be  kept 
in  the  background.  Too  many  details  will  make  it  difficult 
for  the  listener  to  hold  the  parts  of  the  story  together. 

3.  The  order  of  observation  is  generally  the  space  order: 
foreground  to  background,  top  to  bottom,  center  to  circum- 
ference, right  to  left.  Specific  references  such  as  "on  the 
right,  just  beyond,  in  the  distance,"  will  help  the  listener 
to  visualize  special  relations.  As  an  aid  to  this  impression, 
it   is   important   to   indicate   the   point   of   view   as    fixed, 
changed,  or  moving. 

If  the  broadcaster  is  to  remain  in  one  fixed  spot,  it  is  im- 
portant to  select  the  most  favorable  point  of  view.  If  a 
switch  is  made  from  one  position  to  another,  say  from  the 
limb  of  a  tree  to  the  balcony  of  a  house,  the  listener  must 
be  reminded  of  the  change  to  the  new  point  of  view.  If  the 
announcer  is  in  a  plane  reporting  army  air  maneuvers  in  a 
supposed  foreign  attack  on  our  Atlantic  seaboard,  the  point 
of  view  is  constantly  changing  and  the  panorama  is  con- 
tinuously indicated. 

4.  A  unified  description  of  the  scene  requires  an  appro- 
priate ending.  Many  broadcasters  leave  the  report  of  the 
scene  literally  in  the  whole  air.  The  ending  should  convey 

348  RAPE    OF   RADIO 

the  dominant  mood  of  the  broadcaster,  with  the  emphasis 
on  some  important  detail. 

5.  If  you  feel  you  have  exhausted  your  powers  or  want 
your  own  point  of  view  augmented,  turn  the  microphone 
over  to  an  assistant.  This  is  called  "bouqueting,"  in  radio 

It  pays  to  tell  the  truth.  No  need  to  exaggerate  and  fall 
into  melodrama  of  your  own  creation.  Floyd  Gibbons  once 
tried  this  in  a  broadcast  of  the  Ohio  River  Flood,  falsely 
indicating  that  sensational  happenings  were  taking  place 
when  they  were  not  taking  place.  He  was  sued  by  the  script 
writer  for  two  hundred  and  fifty  thousand  dollars  damages 
who  held  that  his  reputation  had  been  marred.  Subse- 
quently the  suit  was  withdrawn. 

Military  Analysis  Commentator 

A  new  class  of  commentators  grew  up  out  of  the  war. 
These  are  military  analysis  commentators  who  study  the 
military  tactics  and  moves  of  the  powers  and  report  their 
observations  over  the  air.  Army  and  Navy  experts  are  not 
permitted  to  air  their  views  during  their  active  service. 

These  experts  are  generally  former  military  men  or  retired 
officers  in  the  aviation,  land  or  sea  forces  of  England  or 
America.  For  a  time  General  Hugh  Johnson  was  NBC's  mili- 
tary observer.  Major  George  Fielding  Eliot  speaks  for 
WABC,  makes  summaries  of  the  evening  European  short 
wave  round-ups.  He  brings  coherence  to  conflicting  claims 
and  outlines  the  probable  course  of  action.  Most  of  the  com- 
mentators are  poor  in  voice,  speak  in  monotones  and  punc- 
tuate their  remarks  by  heavy  breath.  Nevertheless  they  re- 
main popular  with  the  listeners. 

The  radio  war  reporter  has  come  to  stay.  Who  knows 
whether  short  wave  transmitters  may  be  set  up  near  battle- 


fields.  The  time  may  come  when  war  authorities  will  grant 
the  privilege  of  broadcasting  the  actual  combat. 

First  attempt  to  convey  war  news  from  the  scene  of  battle 
is  credited  to  Floyd  Gibbons.  In  1932  he  was  assigned  to  the 
Manchurian  war  zone  by  NBC.  The  zest  of  Floyd's  voice 
brought  to  America  the  sound  of  big  Japanese  guns  booming 
over  the  Chinese  masses. 

H.  V.  Kaltenborn  was  in  the  heat  of  the  Spanish  conflict. 
Making  his  headquarters  at  Hendaye,  he  dashed  into  the 
Loyalist  headquarters  and  then  rushed  into  the  Insurgent 
territory.  He  sought  interviews  with  the  leaders  on  both 
sides  and  got  material  at  first  hand. 

The  battlefront  approached  the  frontier  town  of  Irun. 
From  the  rooftop  of  his  hotel,  Kaltenborn  was  able  to  re- 
port the  actual  process  of  the  fighting.  He  made  a  running 
commentary  of  the  horrors  of  the  conflict  just  as  a  football 
commentator  does,  with  the  battle  on  the  gridiron.  Kalten- 
born was  on  the  scene  of  the  bombardment  at  Fort  Guada- 
lupe  by  two  Insurgent  men-of-war.  He  was  able  to  report 
the  attack  even  while  the  machine-gun  fire  and  the  whirring 
aeroplanes  roared. 

His  report:  "In  a  moment  or  two,  when  the  machine  gun 
which  has  been  barking  intermittently  all  evening  sounds 
again,  I  will  stop  talking  for  a  moment  in  order  that  you 
may  get  something  of  the  sound  of  this  civil  war  as  it  con- 
tinues through  the  night.  This  farm  is  the  one  most  near 
to  the  fighting  scene  .  .  .  located  some  three  hundred  yards 
from  the  lines  where  rebels  and  government  soldiers  are 
fighting  it  out  tonight.  (Sound  of  rifle  fire.)  Those  are  iso- 
lated shots  which  are  being  exchanged  by  the  front-line 
sentinels  on  both  sides." 

"The  value  of  such  broadcasts  is  being  questioned,"  says 
Caesar  Saerchinger.  People  are  affected  by  hearing  the  first 
hand  account  of  the  battlefield,  with  realistic  sound  effects 

350  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

of  explosion  and  groans.  This  realistic  impression  arouses 
peace  loving  instincts  or  stirs  up  animus  and  hate. 

Oral  Styles  in  Description 

Radio  is  not  always  impartial  to  styles  of  oral  description. 
One  style  in  giving  facts,  is  a  precise  statement  of  happen- 
ings. The  other  might  be  called  "impressionistic  descrip- 
tion." It  plays  upon  the  listener's  imagination  and  conveys 
something  of  that  emotion  which  the  speaker  himself  ex- 

The  impressionistic  method  is  less  concerned  with  descrip- 
tion as  such.  It  emphasizes  mood  and  emotion  rather  than 
the  physical  point  of  view.  If  the  broadcaster  is  oppressed 
by  gloom  at  the  sight  of  destructive  flood,  he  must  attempt 
to  convey  this  mood  to  the  listener.  If  he  is  thrilled  by  the 
sight  of  deeds  of  courage  and  darings,  his  choice  of  words 
should  reflect  those  sensations  and  emotions. 

Consider  those  announcers  who  were  assigned  to  Lake- 
hurst,  New  Jersey,  to  broadcast  the  arrival  of  the  giant 
dirigible  "Hindenburg"  on  that  fatal  afternoon.  The 
dirigible  circles  the  mooring  mast  and  suddenly  bursts  into 
flames.  Should  the  announcer  be  constrained  to  a  mere  re- 
cital of  the  facts,  or  shall  he  convey  the  pathos  and  tragedy 
of  the  episode? 

The  networks  do  not  strait-jacket  their  special  events  an- 
nouncers to  any  one  method.  Where  freedom  is  permitted, 
the  ideal  broadcast  embraces  both  factual  and  impressionistic 
style.  Word  pictures  do  more  than  record,  as  does  the  eye  of 
a  camera.  External  things,  even  if  faithfully  reported,  are 
sufficient  for  the  listener.  A  good  oral  description  centers 
the  attention  of  the  listener  on  one  emotion  and  makes  every 
detail  add  to  the  effect. 

The  reign  of  George  VI  will  be  noted  for  the  first  Corona- 
tion broadcast  in  history.  The  commentators  who  were  as- 


signed  ic  report  ;Jie  ceremonies,  v.ere  warned  that  ihey 
must,  evoke  neither  admiration  nor  humiliation.  They  <•,  ere 
to  regard  themselves  as  the  "eyes  of  the  empire."  It  is  esti- 
mated that  out  of  four  hundred  million  British  subjects, 
fully  two-thirds  of  the  number  listened  in.  Instead  of  vis- 
ualizing the  pageantry  with  color  and  enthusiasm,  the  British 
announcers  did  themselves  proud  by  clamping  the  lid  on 
their  impulses.  The  announcers  acting  under  restraint,  can 
never  fulfill  their  job  perfectly.  Such  solemnity  was  seldom 
heard  on  the  air,  and  at  six-sixteen  a.m.  of  the  broadcast  an 
announcer  coughed.  Alton  Cook  reports  that  this  was  the 
broadcast's  first  slip  from  schedule. 

The  act  of  the  announcer  joins  narrative  and  description 
with  moods,  emotions,  interests  and  subjective  states  of 
mind.  First  of  all,  the  announcer  himself  must  be  stirred. 
The  listener  can  best  test  the  values  of  a  broadcast  by  de- 
termining to  what  degree  his  primary  senses  are  touched. 
If  mere  words  can  conjure  up  sight  and  provoke  a  memory 
of  sound,  smell,  taste,  touch — the  announcer  has  achieved 

A  Few   Workout  Exercises 

You  are  ordered  to  talk  through  your  hat. 

Imagine  you  are  George  Hicks,  of  WEAF,  wearing  a  top- 
hat  transmitter,  mingling  with  the  crowds  on  Fifth  avenue 
during  the  Easter  Parade.  Describe  the  scene  as  you  talk 
through  your  hat.  Your  hat  contains  a  portable  compact 
microphone  station  inside.  A  tiny  feather-like  aerial  sticks 
from  the  brim  of  the  silk  topper,  and  a  little  microphone  is 
in  your  coat  lapel.  A  mobile  transmitter  is  in  the  street  and 
will  intercept  your  broadcast  from  your  miniature  outfit 
and  relay  it  to  Radio  City  headquarters  of  NBC  for  trans- 
mission over  the  networks. 

A  special  events  announcer  never  knows  the  precarious 
spots  from  which  he  will  have  to  broadcast.  Suppose  you 

352  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

were  assigned  to  traipse  the  eight-inch  catwalk  of  the  un- 
finished dirigible,  Akron,  and  had  to  walk  sixty  feet  above 
the  hangar?  Jimmie  Wallington,  on  this  occasion,  suddenly 
got  dizzy  and  fell,  but  saved  himself  by  being  fortunate 
enough  to  straddle  the  narrow  metal  plank. 

WJZ's  Sunday  afternoon  variety  program  of  October  20, 
1937,  arranged  a  pick-up  from  a  submarine  making  a  quick 
dive  to  the  bottom  of  the  Atlantic.  You  are  the  first  of  the' 
volunteers  called  for  from  the  announcing  staff  to  make  the 
"crash  dive."  Describe  the  proceedings  through  a  mike. 

The  sun  is  shining  on  a  perfect  day  on  June  18,  1937,  in 
New  York.  On  the  top  of  the  Andes  in  Peru  the  sun  is  about 
to  fade  out  in  a  total  eclipse.  You  are  standing  at  an  eleva- 
tion of  ten  thousand  feet  on  the  crest  of  a  mountain.  De- 
scribe the  phenomena  so  that  listeners  all  over  the  globe  can 
"watch"  the  spectacle  in  the  eerie  darkness. 

It  is  the  longest  total  eclipse  (1937)  in  twelve  hundred 
years.  It  was  Bill  Perry,  the  WABC  announcer  who  made  this 
ascent  up  the  Andes  in  Peru  for  the  broadcast.  He  charac- 
terized the  place  of  vantage  as  "a  point  where  modern  science 
and  ancient  superstitions  meet."  We  quote  here  a  portion 
of  his  broadcast. 

"It's  getting  frightfully  dark  now,"  exclaimed  Perry.  "The 
shadows  are  creeping  up  this  valley,  and  from  our  perch  here 
in  the  churchyard  of  a  quaint  old  adobe  church,  which  must 
have  been  built  goodness  knows  how  long  ago,  we  are  look- 
ing toward  the  sea  and  the  eclipse. 

"We're  almost  near  totality.  Like  a  huge  dim — oh,  look 
at  the  prominence — those  flame-like  things  shooting  up. 
Listen  a  moment  to  the  people — all  the  children  are  crying. 
Look  at  that  gorgeous  corona.  It's  beginning  to  appear.  You 
know  the  shape.  Well,  it's  almost  round.  Over  there  is  Mars. 
Yes,  in  the  twilight,  on  the  western  horizon. 

"Look  at  the  yellow  comet.  There's  a  bat  just  flying  di- 
rectly overhead.  There's  a  very  interesting  sight  just  over 


on  the  western  horizon.  It  looks  like  the  last  tinge  of  a  dying 
sunset  over  there — salmon  color,  fading  off  into  a  greenish 
yellow  on  top  before  fading  to  a  dull  gray  of  the  entire— 
that's  almost  violet,  isn't  it?  The  stars  are  such  tiny  but  very 
far  pinpoints  in  this  very  thin  air  out  here.  Looking  at  the 
sun  itself  now.  Oh,  see  that  prominence  brighten  out  from 
the  bottom  of  the  sun.  I  can  think  of  only  one  word — gar- 
gantuan. The  totality  is  over.  The  sun  is  coming  back.  Now 
it's  flashing  out  and  something  of  light  has  begun  to  appear. 
I  think  it  certainly  grips  you  and  oh,  it  is  the  greatest 
spectacle  on  earth!" 

Imagine  yourself  at  Juneau  (Alaska).  One  afternoon,  the 
outgoing  tide  leaves  a  whale  stranded  high  and  dry.  The 
manager  of  the  radio  station  rigs  up  a  microphone  and 
runs  close  out  to  the  whale,  announcing:  ''Hello,  everybody. 
You're  hearing  the  first  actual  broadcast  of  a  live  whale  on 
the  beach.  The  next  sound  you  will  hear  will  be  the  whale 
thumping  the  ground.  Listen!  Smack!  And  now  listen  to  him 
blow:  'Whhooooooooo-ish!'  "  (Juneau,  Alaska,  1937). 

You  are  at  the  base  of  one  of  the  great  pyramids.  By  ar- 
rangement with  the  Egyptian  State  Broadcasting  Service, 
do  your  stuff  before  the  microphone  (NBC,  February  7, 


Another  workout:  You  are  the  NBC  representative  in 
Italy.  Take  your  portable  transmitter  and  fly  into  the  crater 
of  Vesuvius.  Report  all  of  the  noises,  the  virtual  inferno,  in- 
cluding the  whistling  steam  jets,  the  roar  of  flowing  lava  and 
what  have  you. 

Novelty  Reporting 

There  is  a  thrill  for  the  announcers  and  listeners  alike  in 
novelty  reporting.  These  are  the  stunts  of  radio.  A  few  ex- 
amples: Jump  from  a  parachute  giving  your  impressions 
during  the  leap.  John  Read  King,  announcer,  and  Gwen 
McCleary,  interviewer,  had  barely  time  to  laugh  before 

354  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

they  were  on  the  ground  in  an  attempt  made  for  WABC 
in  July  1939.  All  is  not  so  rosy,  however.  In  another  test,  a 
jumper  was  injured  in  landing  because  of  the  heavy  pack 
transmitter  strapped  to  his  back. 

Think  of  the  swallows  who  every  year  unfailingly  never 
miss  swooping  down  upon  Juan  Capistrano  Mission,  Cali- 
fornia, from  the  Pacific  for  their  bow  before  the  microphone. 
Tell  the  story  of  the  wandering  swallows  and  give  them  a 
chance  to  send  out  tidings  of  their  arrival  under  the  eaves 
of  the  church. 

The  talking  bird  that  stayed  silent  on  Fred  Allen's  pro- 
gram for  six  weeks  ought  to  have  been  a  lesson  enough, 
but  broadcasters  have  sought  animals  and  birds  to  go  through 
their  stunts  none  the  less.  NBC  shipped  crickets  all  the  way 
from  Vermont,  but  the  crickets  did  not  let  out  a  chirp  and 
the  announcer  was  apologetic. 

Graham  McNamee  once  rose  to  heights  of  great  eloquence 
when  Kuda  Bux  actually  ran  through  a  pit  of  glowing  em- 
bers for  the  Bob  Ripley  program  on  WEAF,  and  emerged 
apparently  unscorched. 

Not  to  be  outdone  by  noises  of  animals  on  the  air,  Ahe 
Schecter  thought  up  the  novelty  of  a  broadcasting  singing 
mouse  contest.  Everyone,  it  seemed,  had  a  prima  donna 
mouse  in  the  house.  To  solve  the  problem  of  superiority,  an 
eminent  jury  of  voice  critics  judged  which  was  the  best 
mouse.  This  was  won  by  Mickey,  a  five-inch  American 

The  special  events  division  produced  twelve  hundred  can- 
didates of  the  animal  speaking  world  for  the  edification  of  its 
listeners.  Among  the  performers,  were  a  talking  crow,  a  Tou- 
louse goose,  two  cockatoos,  a  magpie,  a  macaw,  and  many 
African  Grays.  Parrots  are  judged  by  diction,  originality  of 
expression,  vocabulary  and  voice  quality.  The  smartest  par- 
rot of  the  1938  crop  was  the  pet  of  Carl  Carmen  of  New 


York.  With  vigorous  enunciation  he  kept  repeating:  "This 
is  the  National  Broadcasting  Company."  Oh,  wise  bird! 

Snakes  are  the  most  reliable  radio  performers.  Rattle- 
snakes have  been  on  several  programs  and  a  bang  or  two  on 
the  side  of  the  cage  never  failed  to  stir  the  reptile  into 
audible  protest,  heard  round  the  world. 

In  June  1938  Bill  Ware  of  WKRC  was  assigned  to  hold  a 
heifer's  tail  in  one  hand  and  grasp  the  microphone  with  the 
other  as  fast  as  he  could  and  tell  listeners  all  about  it.  But 
this  happens  only  in  Texas  where  the  announcers  learn  a 
few  radio  tricks. 


RADIO     ERA     OF     SPORTS 

SPORTS  has  remained  the  one  department  of  the  news 
in  which  broadcasting  is  supreme.  No  other  method  is 
swifter  while  athletic  events  are  in  the  making.  No  one  has 
accurately  estimated  the  number  of  listeners  who  tune  in 
during  the  sports  programs.  The  figure  would  be  at  least 
approximate  to  that  huge  army  of  readers  who  avidly  turn 
to  their  favorite  sports  columnist. 

The  selective  draft  emphasized  the  relation  of  athletics  to 
physical  fitness.  It  has  given  enormous  impetus  to  sports, 
and  increased  the  aggregate  value  of  athletic  and  sporting 
goods  manufactured  in  the  United  States. 

Radio  in  sports  merely  followed  the  trend  of  the  newsreel 
and  the  newspaper.  Every  newsreel  traditionally  contains 
at  least  from  twenty  to  fifty  per  cent  of  footage  devoted  to 
sports.  So  keen  is  America's  interest  in  the  news  that  no 
metropolitan  paper  could  exist  without  catering  to  the  fan. 
If  the  newspaper  dropped  its  sports  pages  it  would  probably 
lose  from  one-half  to  two-thirds  of  its  circulation.  Sports 
programs  have  a  definite  spot  on  the  networks.  No  sooner 
is  an  important  athletic  event  advertised  than  the  broad- 
casters negotiate  to  get  the  radio  rights.  These  programs  in- 
clude every  variety  of  sport  including  turtle-catching  and 

Treatment  of  every  game  from  the  broadcaster's  viewpoint 
would  be  encyclopaedic.  The  radio  list  of  games  is  for- 

Games  Out  of  the  Loudspeaker 

General:  Baseball;  football  (association  and  rugby,  college 
and  professional);  Softball;  tennis;  golf;  boxing;  wrestling; 


RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  357 

croquet;  hockey;  handball;  polo  (water,  bicycle,  horse,  air); 
cricket;  billiards  and  pool;  ping-pong;  squash  rackets;  la- 
crosse; fencing;  and  archery. 

Racing:  Horse;  automobile;  motorcycle;  aeroplane;  grey- 
hound and  whippet;  six-day  bicycle  races. 

Track  and  Field  Athletics:  Mile;  marathon  and  cross- 
country races;  hurdling;  hammerthrow;  javelin  and  discus- 
throwing;  broad  and  high  jumping;  pole-vaulting,  etc. 

Young  People's  Games:  Marble  contests;  soapbox  derby; 
aeroplane  and  glider  contests. 

Swimming  and  Diving:  All  styles,  heights  and  distances. 

Winter  Sports:  Skating  (figure  and  racing);  ice-hockey; 
skiing;  tobogganing  and  ice-boat  racing;  curling. 

Nautical:  Sculling;  canoeing;  rowing;  yachting;  sailboat; 
motorboat;  life  boats. 

Endurance  and  Other  Contests:  Marathon  dancing;  flag- 
pole sitting;  hog-calling;  corn-husking;  milking,  etc. 

How  to  Become  a  Sports  Announcer  and  Win  Friends 

Sports  broadcasting  holds  out  fascinating  prospects  to 
the  announcer.  More  often  the  preparation  and  actual  effort 
is  perspiring.  Your  attempts  are  subject  to  the  sharpest  criti- 
cal judgment  of  listeners  who  may  know  more  about  the 
game  than  you  do.  They  will  set  you  down  as  a  rank  amateur 
who  had  better  stay  at  home,  if  you  are  not  careful. 

The  task,  however,  is  not  so  heroic  as  it  seems.  Try  cram- 
ming upon  Frank  G.  Menke's  "Encyclopedia  of  Sports" 
which  covers  over  one  hundred  sports  from  rollo  poly  to 
aviation,  the  result  of  research  of  over  two  thousand  books. 
A  sports  broadcaster  should  have  a  feeling  for  amateur  and 
professional  attainment.  He  must  follow  the  day-by-day  re- 
ports and  lend  ear  to  gossip  and  chatter.  He  must  be  familiar 
with  every  angle  of  the  game,  and  know  the  statistics  and 
the  literature  on  the  subject.  Experience  as  a  writer  or 

358  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

newspaper  reporter  is  helpful  training  in  accurate  observa- 
tion and  the  use  of  sports  English. 

It  is  a  fiction  that  one  must  have  been  somewhat  of  an 
expert  player  to  be  a  successful  sports  broadcaster  in  any 
special  field.  True,  actual  practice  in  baseball,  football,  box- 
ing and  the  major  sports  will  give  you  added  confidence  and 
understanding.  Such  experience  offers  no  criteria  that  you 
possess  the  gifts  of  voice  and  imagination  and  those  other 
intangible  qualities  which  will  make  you  a  national  radio 

Every  sports  broadcast  has  its  peculiar  complexities  as 
may  the  game  itself.  There  is  no  particular  trick  or  open 
sesame  that  belongs  especially  to  this  field.  A  contest  is 
always  going  on  before  your  eyes.  Always  there  is  drama. 
Two  forces  are  opposed  to  one  another,  and  one  must  win 
or  lose  or  both  come  out  even.  The  important  attributes  of 
a  sports  commentator  can  be  measured  in  a  general  review 
of  his  own  abilities  along  the  lines  of  these  questions: 

1.  Have  I  a  sense  of  dramatics  sufficient  to  appreciate  the 
dynamics  of  a  sports  contest? 

2.  Can  I  evaluate  skills  and  measure  the  abilities  of  one 
team  or  individual  against  the  other? 

3.  Have  I  originality  of  thought  and  expression  in  the 
vernacular  of  the  game? 

4.  Am  I  facile  and  varied  in  the  use  of  words?  The  an- 
nouncer should  have  at  his  command  a  wealth  of  adjectives 
and  phrases.  The  maudlin  repetition  of  "What  a  fight!  Boy, 
what  fight!"  is  an  admission  of  verbal  weakness.  Don  Wil- 
son almost  ruined  his  broadcast  by  the  ceaseless  repetition 
of  the  adjective   "stalwart"   to  describe  Stanford's   players 
and  Ted  Husing's  reference  to  his  ears  as  "auricular  ap- 
pendages" ceased  to  be  humor.  Sam  Taub,  during  the  Brad- 
dock-Farr  encounter,  clung  to  the  phrase  "the  crowd  is  going 
haywire"  until  the  listener  fell  into  a  similar  state. 

5.  How  does  my  broadcast  stand  up  under  the  test  of  the 

RADIO    ERA   OF   SPORTS  359 

three  specific  virtues  of  simplicity — clarity,  liveliness,  variety 
and  dramatic  flavor? 

6.  Have  I  gathered  all  the  available  news  for  future  refer- 
ence? Bill  Stern  averages  four  hours  of  broadcasting  weekly 
but  spends  some  seventy  hours  preparing. 

Golf,  Tennis  and  Yacht  Races 

Golf  has  limited  possibilities  for  the  announcer  blessed 
with  imagination  or  with  descriptive  sensibilities.  Golf  gives 
little  scope  to  the  announcer's  gift  of  language.  An  acute 
observer  of  the  game  once  said  that  the  only  part  of  the  golf 
broadcast  that  is  not  a  yawn  is  one  about  five  minutes  long 
summarizing  the  results.  What  excitement  is  there  in  hear- 
ing "Hagen  is  now  addressing  the  ball.  Ah,  he's  sliced  into 
the  rough?" 

Golf  announcers  used  to  stay  within  a  wire's  length  of  the 
clubhouse  or  carry  a  pack  transmitter  on  their  backs.  When 
Ted  Husing  covered  the  National  Amateur  Golf  Champion- 
ship in  1936  he  had  to  stand  on  the  edge  of  the  green  during 
the  puttings  and  speak  in  a  hissing  whisper  so  as  not  to 
disturb  the  players.  His  new  invention  is  a  periscope  affair 
which  can  be  planted  behind  the  crowd.  It  magnifies  the 
ball,  cup  and  player  ten  times  and  at  that  distance  from  the 
players  Husing  can  swing  out  with  his  usual  gusto. 

The  broadcast  of  the  National  Open  Golf  Tournament 
at  Philadelphia  on  June  10,  1939,  employed  new  devices  in 
accurate  and  swift  reporting.  The  broadcast  was  made  from 
a  mobilized  unit  equipped  with  a  short  wave  system. 
Equipped  with  wheels  of  aeroplane  size  the  vehicle  could  be 
rolled  over  to  the  field  without  hurting  the  grass.  The  slight 
hum  in  the  phone  was  the  purr  of  the  motor  or  generator 
which  received  signals  from  the  clubhouse. 

Ted  Husing,  working  in  conjunction  with  an  assistant, 
took  the  microphone  to  verify  reports  or  to  analyze  the 

360  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

plays.  In  addition  a  runner  brought  in  fresh  news  from  the 
scores.  The  changes  of  voice  helped  break  up  the  monotony 
of  reporting.  Here  was  a  game  regarded  as  the  classic  of  Golf 
— the  play  off  of  a  triple  in  a  National  Golf  Championship. 

The  top  of  a  mobile  unit  is  a  precarious  perch  at  its  best. 
"Your  commentator,"  said  Husing  apologetically,  "is  speak- 
ing from  the  top  of  a  mobile  unit.  Perhaps  you  will  under- 
stand. I  want  to  catch  my  breath.  People  are  trying  to  jump 
up  on  our  wagon." 

Occasionally  he  carries  on  a  conversation  with  Harry 
Nash,  in  semi-interview  fashion,  asking  for  verifications. 

"The  ball  is  like  a  soap  bubble."  "It  stopped  as  though 
there  were  a  magnet  on  the  green." 

"She's  rolling  straight.  We'll  watch  the  cup  .  .  .  and  here 
comes  Craig  Wood  .  .  .  wait  a  minute — hits  a  tree — 
bounces  off  at  right  angles  .  .  .  not  a  tree  but  a  person 
.  .  .  let's  go  right  up  ...  hit  somebody  on  the  head  .  .  . 
the  police  are  out  there  .  .  .  move  out  all  these  wires  .  .  . 
Jimmy,  most  amazing  thing,  while  I  fix  these  wires  .  .  .  talk 
about  that,  Harry." 

At  the  eighteenth,  Wood  reeled  off  a  two  hundred  and 
eighty  yard  drive  down  the  middle,  with  Nelson  fifteen  yards 
in  the  rear.  Nelson's  finish  is  regarded  as  one  of  the  gamest 
exhibitions  ever  seen  in  golf. 

Such  a  game  is  an  unusual  test  of  physical  stamina  for 
the  broadcaster.  For  over  three  hours  he  was  continuously 
on  the  air,  with  moments  of  rest  only  when  his  assistant, 
Harry  Nash,  broke  in  to  air  a  collection  of  notes.  The  com- 
mentator's task  is  to  make  the  radio  audience  throb  with 
the  excitement  that  infects  the  gallery.  He  observes  the  ter- 
rain, the  traps,  the  condition  of  the  wind,  indicates  the 
players'  position  at  each  stroke  and  summarizes.  Sometimes 
he  waxes  eloquent  "That  is  what  we  call  'Golf  Divinity.' 
Shot  making  has  been  exemplary." 

Automobile  racing,  from  a  radio  viewpoint,  is  not  the 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  361 

sport  of  death-defying  thrills  that  it  is  for  the  spectators. 
Here  is  the  demon  Speed,  toying  with  tragedy.  Will  man  or 
machine  be  victor  or  victim?  Try  as  hard  as  they  may, 
broadcasters  have  never  conveyed  to  listeners  the  thrill  of 
the  scene.  In  the  three  hundred  mile  Vanderbilt  Cup  race 
at  the  Roosevelt  Raceway  in  Westbury,  Long  Island,  on 
October  13,  1936,  McNamee  attempted  to  convey  the  im- 
pression of  speed  and  excitement  by  shouting, — which  is  a 
futile  substitute  for  the  real  thing.  Ted  Husing,  who  held 
sway  over  the  CBS  microphone,  wasted  a  lot  of  time  spout- 
ing meaningless  phrases  about  track  layout. 

Least  interesting  is  the  microphone  story  of  the  automo- 
bile races  in  Indianapolis.  A  rumble,  a  roar,  a  "here  he 
comes"  and  "there  he  goes"  is  about  all  the  broadcaster  can 
make  of  it.  At  least  that  is  all  they  ever  have  made  of  it. 

The  broadcaster  must  convey  the  duel  at  all  angles,  the 
changes  of  pace  in  speed.  Paul  Gallico  expresses  the  impulse 
of  the  view  which  "artistically  as  well  as  emotionally  is 
satisfied.  A  good  player  increases  the  length  of  his  drives 
shot  after  shot  the  way  an  artillerist  lays  a  creeping  barrage 
forcing  an  opponent  beyond  his  own  base  line  and  then 
suddenly  finishes  with  a  drop  shot  and  falls  just  over  the 
net  or  reversing  the  procedure  tees  his  man  toward  the 
center  court  and  then  angles  him." 

Alton  Cook  observes  that  basketball  and  hockey  broadcasts 
can  easily  slip  into  confused  verbal  jumbles."  These  two 
sports  are  difficult  for  an  announcer  to  picture  because  the 
action  switches  from  end  to  end  of  floor  or  rink  with  be- 
wildering activity.  With  the  added  handicap  of  not  knowing 
which  team  is  doing  what  these  broadcasts  become  affairs 
exclusively  for  the  fans  of  the  expert  class.  The  listener  is 
obliged  to  memorize  a  few  dozen  names  in  advance  to  keep 
track  of  who  has  the  ball  or  puck. 

Polo  may  be  the  aristocrat  of  all  sports  .  .  .  but  com- 
pared to  hoi-polloi  baseball,  the  game  lacks  loudspeaker 

362  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

thrills.  Even  Ted  Husing,  who  described  the  championship 
contest  between  Greentree  and  Old  Westbury,  failed  to 
make  it  interesting. 

Tennis  broadcasters  have  the  air  of  addressing  themselves 
to  other  tennis  experts.  Casual  listeners  are  made  to  feel 
that  they  might  as  well  wait  for  the  final  announcement  of 
the  score  and  let  it  go  at  that.  Vincent  Richards,  who  re- 
ported at  the  Bill  Tilden-Perry  game  of  1937,  belongs  to  the 
calm  and  straight-forward  school  of  announcers.  He  does  not 
bother  to  make  things  seem  more  exciting  than  they  really 
are.  Richards  skips  the  less  important  shots  in  the  rally.  He 
uses  surprisingly  little  tennis  vernacular.  The  trick  in  such 
a  broadcast  is  to  summarize  as  the  game  progresses  and 
describe  the  final  coup  in  detail. 

Broadcasters  do  scant  justice  to  the  speed  and  daring  of 
sport's  most  thrilling  event,  the  Memorial  Day  speedway 
races.  The  least  interesting  is  the  broadcast  of  the  five  hun- 
dred mile  classic  race  at  Indianapolis  which  is  regarded  as  the 
most  dangerous,  richest,  longest,  and  fastest  in  the  United 
States.  One  listener  sums  up  his  impression  of  the  broadcast: 
"Calling  'a  rumble,'  'they're  off,'  'there  he  goes'  is  all  the 
broadcasters  can  make  of  it."  And  this  in  spite  of  the  fact 
that  the  broadcasters  use  the  latest  short  wave  equipment  in 
order  to  be  free  from  the  necessity  of  working  on  one  spot 
on  the  track  and  are  thus  able  to  cover  four  hundred  and 
forty-three  acres  of  the  ground  on  any  part  of  the  two  mile 
track  with  complete  mobility. 

International  Cup  Races  call  for  a  battery  of  announcers 
along  the  thirty-mile  course.  On  land  and  sea  and  in  the  air 
are  stationed  the  vocal  reporters  of  the  scene.  In  practice  the 
networks  engage  special  yachting  experts  to  lend  authority 
to  the  broadcast.  Ted  Husing,  for  example,  in  the  1937 
races,  was  assisted  by  Sherman  Hoyt  and  Edward  P.  Foster, 
American  yachting  experts,  and  John  Hughes,  British 
authority.  WOR  engages  Cameron  to  assist  the  regular 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  363 

Special  Events  broadcaster,  David  Driscoll,  with  the  tech- 
nical aspects. 

For  CBS,  George  Hicks  and  Professor  Kenneth  M.  Davi- 
son  follow  on  the  Coast  Guard  cutter  "Sebago."  From  a 
plane  overhead,  Bill  Stern  relays  his  impressions  of  the  race. 
At  the  finish  line  in  a  patrol  boat  is  Arthur  Feldman,  ready 
to  complete  the  picture  with  a  recital  of  closing  events.  The 
race  begins.  Two  sleek  yachts, — the  defender,  ''Ranger," 
entered  by  Harold  S.  Vanderbilt;  the  challenger,  "En- 
deavor II,"  sponsored  by  T.  O.  M.  Sopwith. 

The  start  of  each  day's  race  is  broadcast  from  twelve-thirty 
to  one  p.m.  A  report  of  the  progress  of  the  race  is  given  from 
one-twenty-five  to  one-thirty  each  day  and  at  intervals 
throughout  the  afternoon.  And  in  addition  to  these  eye 
witnesses,  one  of  the  experts  is  heard  in  a  daily  resume  of 
the  races  between  six-fifteen  and  six-thirty  p.m.  There  are 
dreary  gaps  that  need  filling  in.  A  fog  settles  on  the  water. 
The  announcer  cannot  describe  what  he  does  not  see.  The 
listener  is  left  to  the  mercy  of  the  announcer  who,  if  he 
lacks  wit  and  authority,  may  become  as  dreary  as  the 

At  Poughkeepsie  Ted  Husing  had  a  terrible  time  battling 
the  elements,  and  he  was  further  hampered  by  the  low 
barometric  pressure  which  lowered  the  smoke  of  the  ob- 
servation-train engine  and  formed  a  screen  between  the 
announcer  and  the  crews  hurrying  down  the  Hudson.  With 
vision  obscured  by  mist  and  rain  it  is  no  easy  task  to  call 
the  winner. 

The  Fight  Is  on  the  Air! 

The  super  magnet  of  all  radio  programs  is  a  heavyweight 
championship  fight.  All  the  suppressed  and  primitive  sav- 
agery of  man  is  stirred  by  the  combat.  Statisticians  estimate 
that  ninety-six  percent  of  all  the  radio  sets  are  tuned  to 

364  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

the  fistic  battle.  The  nation,  moved  as  if  by  mass  hysteria, 
becomes  one  huge  listening  machine.  The  championship 
fight  indeed  has  more  listeners  than  the  broadcast  of  Presi- 
dent Franklin  D.  Roosevelt. 

Heavyweight  championship  fights  make  the  generators 
hum  to  supply  a  "tidal  wave  of  current."  The  electrical 
meters  begin  to  show  an  increased  consumption  about  a  half 
hour  before  the  bout  due  to  the  snapping  on  of  thousands 
of  radio  "on  switches,"  and  electric  lights. 

The  first  sports  event  that  was  broadcast  was  a  heavy- 
weight championship,  the  first  million-dollar  gate.  The 
historic  setting  was  laid  at  Boyle's  Thirty  Acres  in  Jersey 
City  on  July  21,  1921.  To  the  martial  strains  of  the  "Mar- 
seillaise," ninety  thousand  men  and  women  rose  from  their 
seats  to  greet  "Gorgeous"  Georges  Carpentier  who  had  come 
fresh  from  war  laurels  from  the  heart  of  Paris  to  wrest  the 
title  from  Jack  Dempsey,  the  Manassa  Mauler. 

Major  J.  Andrew  White  did  first  honors  before  the  micro- 
phone. To  him  may  be  accredited  the  title  of  "Pioneer 
Sports  Broadcaster,"  who  convinced  the  skeptical  officials 
that  a  championship  bout  was  an  event  of  national  interest 
that  deserved  the  air. 

Technically,  the  plan  seemed  simple  enough,  and  station 
WJZ  at  once  undertook  the  work  of  installation.  The  rest 
was  left  to  fate. 

Equipment  was  hastily  set  in  place;  a  wire  line  linked  to 
the  ringside  microphone  with  a  transmitter;  an  aerial  strung 
between  the  wireless  towers  of  the  Lackawanna  Railroad 
near  Hoboken;  radiophone  housed  in  a  galvanized  shack 
near  the  yards.  The  fight  is  on  the  air!  A  brief  color  story: 
the  frightful  humidity  of  that  July  afternoon;  aeroplanes 
overhead,  the  Manassa  Mauler  seated  in  the  arc  of  a  huge 
floral  horseshoe,  and  the  expectant  throng  awaiting  the  bell. 
Major  White,  huddled  close  to  the  resined  canvas  was  to 
chronicle  the  slaughter  blow  by  blow.  His  voice  came  over 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  365 

the  air,  mixed  with  static  and  noises  from  the  scene  of  the 
conflict.  Dempsey  swings  upward  to  the  jaw.  ...  In  the 
first  half  minute  Carpentier  hits  the  dust.  .  .  .  Four  rounds 
.  .  .  The  Frenchman  is  down  .  .  .  for  the  count.  Hysteri- 
cal mob. 

The  public  received  this  broadcast  as  a  revelation  of 
radio's  possibilities.  Listeners  got  the  result  instantly  and 
did  not  have  to  wait  for  the  next  morning  or  evening  edition 
to  digest  a  newspaper  yarn.  Where  else  would  the  micro- 
phone be  carried  in  reporting  sports  events?  Broadcasting 
was  then  but  one  year  old.  Remember,  too,  that  this  was  the 
era  of  the  crystal  set  and  earphone.  Yet  this  broadcast  was 
the  beginning  of  the  period  when  the  blare  of  radio  was 
heard  in  the  public  streets.  Such  was  the  demand  for  the 
fight  result  that  shopkeepers  rigged  up  old  phonograph  horns 
outside  their  windows  to  magnify  the  sound.  It  was  all  done 
by  the  simple  expedient  of  clamping  the  earphones  of  their 
radios  to  the  horns.  Thus  the  voice  of  Major  White  was 
blared  to  the  crowds  on  the  street  who  were  in  the  same 
throes  of  excitement  as  the  seventy-five  thousand  who  paid 
$1,789,000  to  watch  the  struggle.  The  radio  audience  for 
this  broadcast  is  estimated  at  some  two  hundred  thousand. 

Advance  the  time  a  little  more  than  five  years,  to 
September  23,  1926,  and  change  the  scene  to  the  Sesqui- 
Centennial  in  Philadelphia.  Here  Tunney  takes  the  measure 
of  Dempsey  in  a  torrential  rain,  when  within  a  half  hour 
he  batters  the  supposedly  invincible  champion  beyond 
recognition.  This  is  a  historical  battle  for  radio  because  it 
is  the  first  to  be  broadcast  by  a  network  (WEAF),  and  also 
because  it  is  the  first  championship  fight  to  have  an  inter- 
national radio  hook-up.  Shortwave  brought  the  fistic  battle 
to  Europe,  South  Africa  and  South  America.  This  time 
approximately  fifteen  million  people  abroad  cupped  their 
ears  to  the  voice  of  Graham  McNamee  and  Major  J.  Andrew 

366  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

Fight  broadcasting  over  the  years  became  a  prized  feature. 
The  Louis-Braddock  fight  of  1937  helped  to  bring  about  a 
strong  competition  for  the  right  to  broadcast  major  bouts. 
Both  networks  bid  for  the  privilege,  each  hoping  to  find  a 
sponsor  to  take  over  the  financial  burden. 

Yesterday's  Fight  Broadcasts 

Older  fans  will  remember  fight  broadcasting  as  an  ex- 
tended and  exciting  affair.  The  listener  was  permitted  to 
revel  in  the  full  noises  of  the  arena.  He  caught  the  clamor 
and  frenzy  of  the  crowd.  The  preliminaries  were  on  the  air 
at  least  a  half  hour  before  the  major  battle.  The  announcer 
was  on  the  spot  to  interview  celebrities  and  to  pick  up  the 
sidelights.  He  packed  the  minutes  with  quick  verbal  pictures 
that  lifted  the  emotions  to  high  pitch. 

Ringside  broadcasting  has  greatly  changed  since  the  days 
of  the  Dempsey-Tunney  bout.  The  Schmeling-Louis  bout  of 
1936  ushered  in  a  new  routine.  Today  the  sponsor  pays  for 
time,  and  the  time  is  limited  to  the  sponsor's  contract.  The 
sponsor  of  the  Louis-Schmeling  fight  of  1938  figured  on 
clearing  the  wave  lengths  of  over  a  hundred  stations  for 
sixty  minutes,  but  the  program  was  ended  almost  before  it 
started.  He  was  billed  only  for  the  time  consumed  which  in 
actual  fighting  was  two  minutes  and  four  seconds. 

Many  look  back  with  regret  at  the  changes  in  fight  broad- 
casting. Much  of  the  atmosphere  of  the  early  days  is  omitted. 
No  longer  is  the  fighter  followed  in  his  picturesque  journey 
down  the  aisles  from  the  dressing  room  to  the  ropes  of  the 
arena.  Now  the  announcer  often  reads  from  a  prepared 
script  which  is  presumed  to  add  color  to  the  scene.  Back- 
ground noises  are  coldly  cut  out  of  the  perfected  microphone 
of  today,  or  else  the  roar  and  excitement  are  filtered  to  a 
point  that  makes  the  arena  sound  like  a  tranquil  gathering 
at  tea  time.  There  were  days  when  listeners  got  the  real 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  367 

thing  in  excitement,  and  could  catch  the  shrieks  of  entreaty 
from  the  crowd. 

Today  the  listener  catches  faintly  the  hollow  echoes  of  a 
Joe  Humphreys  introducing  the  contestants  and  calling  their 
weights.  And  during  all  this,  the  radio  announcer  in  control 
of  the  mike  may  be  reading  from  his  script.  The  gong  rings. 
The  mike  passes  from  the  announcer  who  has  just  "colored" 
the  scene,  to  the  expert  who  describes  the  blow-by-blow 
action.  Words  fly  faster  than  fists,  but  only  once  in  a  while 
can  the  listener  catch  the  thunder  of  the  arena  crowd.  Sel- 
dom is  heard  that  atavistic  cry,  'Tight,  yah  yellow  bum. 
You're  layin'  down  on  me.  Fight,  yah  tramp!" 

Fights  no  longer  live  on  the  air  a  half-hour  after  the  bout. 
In  the  early  days,  the  fan  was  regaled  with  running  com- 
mentary from  fight  veterans  or  celebrities  who  had  seen  the 
fight.  Radio  time  permits  neither  postlude  or  post-mortem. 
The  fight  once  ended  is  ended. 

Can  a  Fight  Broadcaster  Be  Honest? 

Except  for  a  few  one-sided  matches,  almost  every  major 
fistic  battle  has  launched  furious  arguments  about  the 
honesty  of  the  commentator.  The  broadcaster's  view  is  often 
at  total  variance  with  the  facts  as  disclosed  by  the  camera 
and  newspaper  accounts.  One  caustic  critic  has  remarked 
that  if  the  listener  were  to  attempt  to  see  eye  to  eye  with 
the  broadcasting  description  of  a  fight,  and  the  newspaper 
accounts,  he  (the  listener)  would  be  apt  to  become  cross- 

Announcers  should  be  impartial,  and  their  judgment 
uncolored  by  prejudice  or  favoritism.  Trouble  is  caused  by 
people  who  insist  on  knowing  right  at  the  moment  whether 
the  punch  is  a  hook  or  a  right  cross.  "Blows  are  not  always 
what  they  seem,"  said  McNamee.  "A  dramatic  roundhouse 
swing  that  should  fell  an  ox  often  seems  to  have  no  effect. 

368  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

The  damaging  blows  and  frequently  the  knock-out  punches 
are  never  seen.  In  the  interest  of  accuracy  the  blows  cannot 
be  called  as  they  fall."  As  a  rule,  McNamee,  who  originated 
the  "excitement"  school  does  not  bother  much  with  these 

What  some  critics  call  frantic  to  the  point  of  the  ludicrous 
may  bring  very  powerful  sensations  to  the  listener.  There 
was  Clem  McCarthy  on  the  night  of  the  historic  Louis- 
Schmeling  battle.  A  second  after  the  decision  he  was  able 
to  corral  Louis  to  the  microphone.  But  Schmeling,  tem- 
porarily dazed,  remained  inaccessible  guarded  by  his  seconds. 
"Max!"  cried  Clem,  "Max!"  The  cry  was  hysterical.  "Max 
come  over  here  .  .  .  Max  .  .  .  Officer  .  .  .  get  Schmeling 
...  I  can't  get  him  ...  a  badly  beaten  man  .  .  .  never 
saw  any  other  fighter  look  so  badly." 

Calm  and  conventional  commentary  would  have  lent  dig- 
nity to  the  broadcast,  but  not  drama.  Listeners  by  mere  tonal 
suggestion  caught  the  pathos  of  the  scene,  and  Clem  re- 
deemed himself  for  his  previous  omissions. 

After  nineteen  years  of  fight  broadcasting,  Radio  is  still 
seeking  the  ideal  announcer  who  is  able  to  sit  at  the  ring- 
side and  give  a  lucid,  lively  and  accurate  picture  of  heavy- 
weights in  action  for  the  championship. 

Clem  McCarthy's  broadcast  of  the  Louis-Baer  contest  was 
notable  for  shrewd,  wise  summaries  of  the  strategy  as  well 
as  a  graphic,  understandable  account. 

Graham  McNamee  earned  for  himself  the  title  of  "The 
Irremovable  Big  Fight  Announcer."  Many  think  that  Mc- 
Namee is  too  picturesque  and  not  technical  enough  to  be  at 
the  ringside.  Others  prefer  spontaneity,  color  and  a  dramatic 
voice  to  the  calling  of  uppercuts,  and  the  varieties  of  jab. 
He  admits  he  misses  a  lot  of  the  details  in  his  ringside 
descriptions.  He  keeps  up  a  running  chatter  and  is  fre- 
quently behind  the  bell.  Occasionally  he  gets  tangled  up  in 
telling  who  landed  what  and  when  and  where. 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  369 

"But  I  don't  think  that  makes  an  awful  lot  of  difference 
to  the  great  air  audience,"  explains  McNamee.  "It's  my 
opinion  that  the  audience  often  doesn't  know  or  doesn't  care 
what  a  left  hook  or  infighting  is.  The  listener  wants  a 
dramatic  picture  of  the  scene,  he  wants  to  follow  the  progress 
of  the  fight.  I  try  to  get  to  him  the  information  as  fast  as  I 
can  and  I  get  excited  like  anyone  else  while  I'm  doing  it." 

Charles  Francis  Coe  is  the  master  fight  commentator  who 
reported  with  Ted  Husing  the  Louis-Sharkey  battle.  Socker 
Coe  follows  the  mixed  style  in  broadcasting.  He  explains  his 
way  in  a  specific  instance:  "You  see  a  fighter  comes  out  of 
his  corner  and  jabs  with  his  left  a  few  times,  each  time  a 
little  short.  Instead  of  saying,  'Short  with  a  left,  short  with 
a  left,  short  with  a  left,'  you  don't  know  whether  he  really 
intended  to  land  those  or  was  just  trying  to  make  the  other 
man  lead.  You  say  so. 

"Follow  the  offensive.  Usually,  from  the  man's  position, 
I  can  anticipate  what  he's  going  to  do  and  keep  right  up 
with  the  action  when  he  does  it.  It  sounds  easy.  Of  course, 
sometimes  they  don't  do  what  you  expect.  You  have  to 
develop  a  glibness  to  cover  this." 

Voice  and  Diction  for  the  Fight  Broadcaster 

Listeners  have  become  accustomed  to  the  sparkle  and 
spontaneity  in  voice  that  mark  the  successful  broadcasters. 
One  critic  calls  this  the  genius  of  making  the  listener  feel 
that  something  tremendously  stirring  was  always  just  a 
sentence  away.  When  the  sponsors  of  the  Baer-Carnera  fight 
sought  to  replace  Graham  McNamee,  they  auditioned  scores 
of  candidates  for  the  post.  None  of  them  came  through  with 
the  same  vigor  and  liveliness  of  McNamee.  And  McNamee 
was  retained  in  spite  of  the  growing  complaints  regarding 
his  inaccuracy. 

There  is  no  one  who  in  a  few  minutes  can  create  and 

37°  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

maintain  suspense  as  skilfully  as  Clem  McCarthy.  With  a 
keen  sense  of  the  dramatic,  he  combines  a  sharp  eyesight, 
a  fast  and  authoritative  tongue  and  a  voice  tensely  toned. 

Fight  broadcasting  requires  stress  on  significant  words 
without  straining.  Excess  emphasis  will  convert  the  best 
intentions  into  sheer  noise.  "Socker"  Coe  commands  atten- 
tion because  he  is  gusty,  hearty  and  emphatic.  At  times  he 
is  crisp,  but  never  monotonous. 

Overemphatic  delivery  covering  a  period  of  a  fifteen- 
minute  broadcast  tends  to  become  sing-songy.  Clem  Mc- 
Carthy errs  in  this  respect.  A  more  distributed  stress  on 
key  words  would  relieve  the  regularity  of  the  accent.  Clem 
is  the  son  of  an  auctioneer  and  is  deft  of  tongue  by  in- 
heritance. His  speech  record  is  some  two  hundred  and  forty- 
four  words  a  minute,  a  pace  which  strikes  the  ear  with 

It  is  easy  to  portray  a  fighter  as  putting  up  a  better  fight 
than  the  actual  results  show.  Socker  Coe  in  his  broadcast 
of  the  Sharkey-Louis  bout  gave  the  impression  that  Sharkey 
was  putting  up  a  better  fight.  Clem  McCarthy  made  the 
Farr-Louis  fight  about  even.  The  truth  is  Farr  never  stood 
a  chance.  Sam  Taub,  we  believe,  would  not  have  erred  in 
this  respect,  because  he  has  habitually  shown  a  more  accurate 

Resolutions  of  a  Fight  Broadcaster 

Suppose  you  find  yourself  in  a  state  of  nerves  while  wait- 
ing for  the  bell  which  will  send  the  heavyweights  into 
action.  Your  mind  is  set  on  doing  justice  to  the  occasion 
and  your  very  anxiety  makes  you  more  tense.  How  shall  you 
acquire  that  balance  which  is  necessary  before  you  talk  into 
the  microphone  strapped  from  your  shoulders?  You  might 
indulge  yourself  in  a  brief  monologue  in  some  such  resolves: 

Resolve  i.  I  will  lose  all  worry  about  my  bias  of  judg- 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  371 

ment.  I  will  step  into  my  character  as  an  impartial  expert 
and  lose  my  character  as  a  prejudiced  individual. 

Resolve  2.  My  own  mind  cannot  bribe  me  to  distort  the 
facts.  I  must  report  to  my  listeners  those  things  that  they 
would  see  with  their  own  eyes  under  the  glare  of  those  white 
lights  were  they  transported  to  the  scene.  "The  toughest 
part  of  broadcasting,"  says  Sam  Taub,  "is  the  fact  that  you 
are  intimate  with  all  the  boys  in  the  game.  Tell  your  story 
adhering  to  the  facts  and  not  permitting  personal  feelings 
to  enter  the  picture. 

How  easy  a  prescription  this  seems.  You  will  have  made 
a  terrible  oath  to  tell  the  truth,  the  whole  truth,  and  noth- 
ing but  the  truth.  Suddenly  you  have  a  shaky  feeling.  Your 
heart  and  sentiment  yield.  You  see  your  favorite  struck  with 
vicious  blows,  and  you  make  no  mention  of  them,  nor  report 
them  as  light  taps.  Your  man  is  weakening,  yet  you  build 
him  up  as  possessed  of  endless  strength.  You  lose  your  sense 
of  proportion,  and  before  you  know  it  you  are  overcome  by 
your  own  prejudices.  You  are  no  longer  useful  as  a  broad- 
caster. The  public  finds  you  out  when  the  first  extras  reach 
the  street. 

Resolve  5.  I  will  not  make  any  positive  predictions  as  to 
the  winner.  Anything  can  happen  as  in  that  historic  long- 
count  when  Tunney  arose  from  a  state  of  stupor  and  gave 
Dempsey  a  merry  chase  around  the  ring,  finally  to  be  hailed 
the  victor. 

Resolve  4.  I  will  call  the  blows  as  I  see  them,  and  I  shall 
do  my  best  to  see  them  as  they  happen  with  one  respect  to 
certain  taboos.  The  spilling  of  blood  is  tabooed  under  the 
ruling  of  the  New  York  State  Boxing  Commission  which 
decrees  that  listeners  shall  not  be  unduly  roused  by  descrip- 
tion of  the  carnal  side  of  any  bout.  Hence,  do  not  linger 
on  the  picture  of  Braddock,  blinded  by  his  own  blood  in  his 
gory  battle  with  Tony  Galento,  or  commiserate  Tony  hacked 
by  Max  Baer.  Read  about  it  in  print  if  you  will.  The  New 

372  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

York    Times  recorded  James   D.   Dawson's   description   of 
Galento's  face  as  "red  as  a  piece  of  raw  beef." 

Resolve  5.  If  in  doubt  I  shall  call  the  close  rounds  even. 

How  to  Quicken  Eye  and  Tongue 

Few  realize  how  strenuous  is  the  business  of  broadcasting 
a  fight.  Talk  into  the  microphone,  and  you  will  realize  the 
extraordinary  amount  of  mental  concentration  required.  The 
cycle  of  nerve  impulses  is  swift  and  continuous.  Messages 
flash  to  the  brain  by  way  of  the  optic  nerve.  The  speech 
centers  are  excited.  The  nerve  impulses  are  sent  to  the 
organs  creating  articulate  expression.  In  a  blow-by-blow 
description  the  broadcaster  must  perform  the  impossible 
feat  of  synchronizing  speech  with  what  is  going  on.  He  soon 
learns  that  even  the  shortest  sentences  fall  behind  the  speed 
of  the  punches.  No  other  sport  more  completely  demands 
flexibility  of  tongue. 

Sam  Taub  surprises  you  with  his  glibness.  He  even  man- 
ages to  make  extraneous  comments  when  the  two  fighters  are 
making  onslaughts  on  each  other  with  lightning  rapidity. 
Consider  that  a  trained  newspaperman  finds  it  possible  to 
dictate  three  or  four  hundred  words  to  a  round,  if  he  has  a 
fast,  experienced  and  cool  telegraph  operator  at  his  side. 
The  commentator  talking  into  the  microphone  can  go  far 
beyond  this  number  of  words — say  six  hundred.  He  calls  the 
blows  out  as  he  sees  them,  and  he  must  see  accurately. 

Two  men  are  trying  to  do  one  another  as  much  injury 
as  possible  within  an  allotted  space  of  time,  and  the  broad- 
caster's task  is  to  report  how  the  punishment  is  meted  out. 
Many  a  specific  problem  must  be  solved  instantly  with  a 
glance  of  the  eye.  Camera  is  down!  You  must  get  that  over 
with  first.  Which  hand  of  Baer  struck?  Left  or  right?  Hook 
or  cross?  This  is  not  the  time  for  reflection.  The  experi- 
enced commentator  watches  the  stricken  fighter.  Is  he  out 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  373 

like  a  light,  or  is  he  taking  a  comfortable  rest  up  to  the 
count  of  nine?  Watch  him  as  he  leans  on  his  elbows,  strug- 
gling to  get  to  his  feet.  Will  he  collapse?  Pick  up  the  count. 
Watch  Baer,  see  what  he  is  doing,  whether  he  has  retired 
to  the  neutral  corner.  Keep  your  eye  on  the  referee  as 
Camera  attempts  to  rise.  Will  the  referee  stop  the  fight? 

The  'Tween-Rounds  Announcer 

In  practice  it  is  the  duty  of  the  'tween-rounds  announcer 
to  shrewdly  summarize  the  action  of  the  preceding  round. 
Such  commentary  must  be  crowded  into  less  than  two 
minutes.  This  calls  for  a  swift  survey  of  the  scene,  quick 
judgment,  making  rapid  notes,  and  perfect  timing.  It  is 
often  the  duty  of  the  secondary  announcer  to  squeeze  in  the 
"commercials"  as  deftly  as  possible. 

Bill  Stern  has  the  sponsor's  tough  job  of  making  Adam's 
Hat  fit  the  heads  of  as  many  listeners  as  possible.  The  com- 
mercials are  often  left  to  commercial  announcers  like  Ben 
Grauer  who,  as  in  the  Louis-Galento  bout,  can  frequently 
inject  the  keen  edges  of  the  Schick  Injector  Razors. 

Everything  must  be  co-ordinated  so  that  the  sponsor  will 
not  be  blotted  out  of  the  picture.  In  a  few  short  sentences, 
the  action  of  the  round  must  be  summarized.  Ten  seconds 
before  the  next  round,  the  buzz  at  the  ringside  will  remind 
him  that  he  must  release  the  microphone  to  his  blow-by- 
blow  partner. 

It  is  an  art  to  call  the  blows  expertly  and  at  the  same 
time  add  word  pictures.  The  commentator  has  little  time 
for  extraneous  descriptions.  The  between-rounds  announcer 
may  slip  in  things  left  unsaid  by  the  commentator,  and 
round  out  the  picture  with  some  deft  word  touches. 

During  the  Louis-Schmeling  bout  of  June,  1938,  Ed 
Thorgersen,  the  secondary  announcer,  lost  his  opportunity. 
Instead  of  mentioning  the  throwing  of  the  towel  into  the 

374  RAPE   OF    RADIO 

ring,  which  Clem  had  failed  to  note,  Ed,  who  was  inexpe- 
rienced, went  off  into  generalizations:  " Louis  has  culminated 
one  glorious  victory.  You  have  a  feeling  that  he  believes 
himself  the  undisputed  champion.  The  beating  he  handed 
Schmeling  tonight  dispelled  any  doubt  as  to  who  was  the 
best  fighter.  Everybody  has  been  taken  by  surprise  and 
bewilderment.  Here's  Clem." 

This  inter-rounds  job  requires  quick  colloquial  speech. 
The  'tween-rounds  announcer,  like  his  partner,  should  be 
a  master  of  ad  libbing.  Bill  Stern  who  works  sometimes  with 
Sam  Taub,  is  not  fast.  The  broadcast  follows  a  definite  rou- 
tine. The  best  rounds  announcer  becomes  the  color  an- 
nouncer, describes  the  setting,  calls  attention  to  the  pre- 
liminary bouts,  delves  into  the  history,  garb,  and  weights 
of  the  fighters,  brings  celebrities  to  the  microphone,  and 
permits  the  name  of  the  time  keeper,  knockdown  counter, 
and  referee  to  seep  through  the  loud  speaker. 

Bill  Stern  provides  himself  with  large  pieces  of  heavy 
cardboard  on  which  is  pasted  the  miscellaneous  information 
he  has  tested  for  reading  within  the  period  of  fifty-five 
seconds.  When  a  round  has  become  full  and  uneventful,  Bill 
can  take  refuge  in  his  notes  as  Sam  Taub  calls:  "End  of 
Round  Two  .  .  .  Take  it,  Bill." 

William  C.  Hill,  who  was  Clem  McCarthy's  announcing 
partner,  was  guilty  at  one  time  of  reading  a  prepared-in- 
advance  script  on  the  primal  killing  instincts  of  man.  This 
shows  a  weakness.  The  sponsor  may  decide  on  a  cordon  of 
announcers.  Thus  for  the  Louis-Galento  fight,  Gabriel 
Heatter  provided  color  and  between-round  commentary, 
Bell  Stern,  the  blow-by-blow  account,  and  Ben  Grauer  went 
off  on  a  roving  assignment  around  the  ringside  after  the 

Broadcasts  are  more  effective  when  there  is  a  difference 
in  quality  of  voice  between  the  blow-by-blow  announcer 
and  the  'tween-rounds  commentator.  When  working  with 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  375 

Clem  McCarthy  during  the  Louis-Schmeling  fight  of  June, 
1938,  the  higher-pitched  voice  of  Ed  Thorgersen  was  in 
marked  contrast  to  the  hoarse,  tense,  dramatic  tones  of 
McCarthy.  Other  characteristics  of  speech  help  in  establish- 
ing the  identity  of  the  two  commentators.  The  clean-cut 
and  precise  diction  of  Brooks  Temple  offered  a  distinguish- 
ing mark  to  the  less  elegant  and  less  precise  diction  of  Sam 

Styles  in  Fight  Broadcasting 

Broadcasters  themselves  are  in  conflict  as  to  the  best  styles 
for  fight  broadcasting.  The  camps  are  divided  into  the  blow- 
by-blow  stylists  and  the  newspaper  commentary  stylists.  The 
conventional  method  of  blow-by-blow  description  has  its 
difficulties.  It  is  no  small  miracle  to  get  in  a  word  about 
every  blow.  Such  detail  makes  the  rights  and  lefts  to  the 
head  sound  alike  and  the  listener  is  left  wondering  whether 
some  of  them  were  not  harder  than  the  others. 

The  experienced  broadcaster  can  group  a  series  of  punches 
into  a  single  phrase.  He  spends  more  words  on  punches  that 
have  an  immediate  effect  or  that  might  have  a  later  effect. 

Fight  enthusiasts  who  listen  in  at  home  complain  that 
radio  announcers  at  the  ringside  try  to  say  too  much.  They 
strive  to  tell  about  every  incident,  great  or  small.  As  a 
result  of  the  lack  of  selectivity,  words  become  tangled,  for 
example,  "Max  hit  Max";  or  one  announcer  reports  Max's 
left  eye  closed,  while  another  claims  it  is  the  right  optic  that 
is  battered  and  useless.  These  frequent  slips  in  big  broad- 
casts are  due  to  incoordination  between  the  eye  and  the 
mind.  Only  experience  can  correct  this  failing.  Among  the 
pioneer  broadcasters  who  have  specialized  in  boxing,  Sam 
Taub  remains  unsurpassed  in  straightforward,  crisp  and 
detailed  description  of  several  fights  a  week  in  the  smaller 
metropolitan  fight  clubs. 

The  broad  descriptive  method  in  fight  broadcasting  pays 


less  attention  to  details.  It  permits  pauses  in  which  to  point 
out  strategy  and  fighting  style.  Instead  of  a  continuous  re- 
port on  blows,  the  listener  gets  a  quick  flash  of  meaning 
and  purpose  behind  these  dynamics  of  action. 

The  incisive  tone  is  best  for  marshalling  facts  into  rapid 
summary.  Shorter  sentences  allow  for  stertorous  effects  that 
are  gripping.  The  voice  can  be  made  to  give  the  shading  in 
volume  that  anticipates  the  climax  of  the  big  blow.  Words 
are  not  enough.  It  is  the  tone  in  which  ideas  are  conveyed. 
An  "Oh,  Boy!"  carries  more  weight  than  fancy  descriptions 
of  a  flock  of  punches  that  hit  nothing.  The  use  of  the 
present  tense  makes  for  vividness. 

Sam  Taub  is  a  native  of  the  East  Side  of  New  York  like 
ex-Governor  Al  Smith  of  rad-dio  fame.  As  a  reporter  of 
outstanding  boxing  events  for  the  Morning  Telegraph  over 
a  period  of  twenty  years,  he  acquired  an  ease  of  penchant 
for  description.  Covering  a  span  of  fifteen  years  he  has 
described  in  the  air  some  seven  thousand  ring  contests  which 
include  championships  in  every  class.  On  small  stations  he 
often  remained  at  the  microphone  for  twenty  rounds  at  a 
stretch  with  no  relief  of  a  between-rounds  announcer.  Sam 
is  spoken  of  by  Alton  Cook  as  working  himself  into  a  lather 
of  excitement  hunched  at  his  microphone  with  his  hat  on. 
He  never  takes  his  hat  off  during  broadcasts.  "It  helps  me 
sweat,"  he  explains. 

Fight  broadcasters  should  be  at  home  with  the  vernacular 
of  the  ring.  Sam  Taub,  who  for  many  years  broadcast  locally, 
in  1937  was  assigned  to  the  networks.  He  is  a  past  master 
of  fight  "lingo."  There  is  something  vivid  and  picturesque 
in  his  terse  descriptions.  It  is  said,  however,  that  Sam  did 
not  get  his  chance  on  the  networks  earlier  because  the  fight 
fans  prefer  a  more  cultured  tone.  An  intonation  pattern 
that  is  too  racial  seems  to  call  attention  to  the  tone  and 
other  phonetic  variations  rather  than  the  thought.  But  Sam 
Taub  suffers  from  want  of  crispness  and  sharp  enunciation. 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  377 

On  March  28,  1938,  during  the  broadcast  of  the  Ursell- 
Polika  fight  at  a  local  club,  some  characteristic  inaccuracies 
were  recorded  coming  over  the  air  in  this  fashion: 

"Center  of  the  ring"  becomes  "Cenner  of  the  ring";  "left 
to  the  body"  becomes  "lef  to  the  body";  "coming  back  with 
a  short  uppercut"  becomes  "comin  back  wid  a  short  upper- 
cut";  "just  moves  in  there"  becomes  "jus  moves  in  dere" ; 
"clinch"  sounds  like  "kglintch." 

Whatever  Sam  lacks  in  precise  speech,  he  atones  for  in 
his  images.  He  strikes  home  with  the  suggestive  phrase,  the 
picturesque  image,  the  trope  which  is  immediately  under- 
stood. For  instance:  "He  works  like  a  smooth  and  well-oiled 
machine  ...  he  must  have  a  pretty  concrete  jaw  to  stand 
those  blows  ...  he  is  dodging  a  flurry  of  blows  .  .  .  Polika 
is  a  pretty  good  sharpshooter  connecting  with  his  target 
.  .  .  Polika  is  praying  for  a  knockout." 

Blunders  in  Fight  land 

Radio  chronicles  abound  in  blunders  in  fight  broadcast- 
•ing.  Sports  announcers  who  make  the  greatest  percentage 
of  boners  naturally  broadcast  without  a  script  amid  scenes 
of  great  excitement.  The  blood  goes  to  the  head.  Judgment 
becomes  ill-timed.  Time  and  space  become  merely  relative. 
The  scene  becomes  merged  into  a  composite  picture  of 
human  flesh  coalescing.  Visualize  such  a  situation  as  recently 
described  over  the  air  by  a  fight  commentator:  "The  boys 
are  in  a  corner  slugging  away  at  each  other  in  the  middle 
of  the  ring." 

In  the  Dempsey-Firpo  fight  of  September  14,  1923,  the 
announcer,  carried  away  by  the  excitement  of  the  fighters 
knocking  each  other  down  alternately,  broke  into  a  chant, 
"He's  down,  he's  up,  he's  down  .  .  ."  That  announcer  was 
Major  Andrew  White. 

Graham  McNamee,  once  the  dean  of  all  sports  announcers, 

378  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

is  used  to  taking  it  on  the  chin  from  the  critics.  In  broad- 
casting the  Baer-Carnera  fight  he  inadvertently  reported 
Baer  as  delivering  a  crushing  uppercut  to  his  own  jaw.  And 
a  little  later  in  the  match  he  had  Camera  swinging  at 
himself  in  a  similarly  destructive  way.  It  was  a  short  battle 
McNamee  had  to  report — a  brief  two  rounds — which,  until 
the  Louis-Schmeling  debacle  of  June,  1938,  was  regarded  as 
the  most  dramatic  fight  in  fistic  history. 

The  broadcaster  who  lacks  originality  or  is  troubled  about 
strengthening  his  verbal  pictures  should  provide  himself 
with  a  sheaf  of  appropriate  images.  It  is  often  difficult  to 
spring  the  right  phrase  on  the  spur  of  the  moment,  especially 
under  the  hectic  conditions  of  the  ring.  Even  the  most 
hackneyed  comparison  is  better  than  none.  There  are  about 
two  hundred  sports  writers  in  the  press  section  during  a 
championship  bout  and  their  reports  lend  comparative 
study.  Subscribe  to  a  clipping  bureau  and  revel  in  the  sports 
lingo  and  picturesque  phrases  unleashed  by  master  column- 
ists like  Joe  Williams  and  Grantland  Rice.  Study  them  in 
advance  for  immediate  use.  Try  these  dozen  culled  from 
the  daily  press:  "The  blow  was  not  a  feeler, — it  was  a  cannon 
shot."  "He  goes  haywire  with  his  blows."  "He  found  a  flaw 
in  his  defensive  armor."  "He  is  springing  on  him  with  the 
instinct  of  the  jungle."  "Louis  is  continuing  his  blasting 
operations."  "Max  dropped  like  an  anchor."  "Blows  with 
appalling  lethal  power."  "He  unleashed  his  double-barrelled 
barrage."  "It  is  a  one-sided  slugging  festival."  "One  great 
arm  shot  out  like  a  piston  rod."  "It  must  have  been  like 
hailstones  hitting  him."  "He  was  spread  out  like  a  carpet 

Critical  Blows  of  the  Listeners 

The  man  who  reports  the  blow-by-blow  account  of  a 
fight  must  be  prepared  to  meet  the  critical  blows  of  his 
audience  at  home.  As  the  bell  clangs  at  the  end  of  the  last 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  379 

round,  comes  the  interview  with  the  fighters.  The  announcer 
clambers  toward  the  ropes  carrying  his  microphone  into  the 
ring.  The  experienced  broadcaster  has  learned  to  be  wary 
of  those  whom  he  calls  before  the  microphone.  Joe  Jacobs, 
manager  of  the  German  challenger,  abused  this  privilege 
when,  in  lieu  of  Schmeling,  he  shouted  into  the  microphone, 
"We  wuz  robbed!" 

Radio  fans  have  learned  to  expect  a  panting  post-fight 
statement  from  the  winning  battler.  The  announcer's  task 
is  to  get  into  the  ring  before  the  winner  is  hurried  to  the 
dressing  room.  He  has  often  to  fight  his  way  through  a 
mass  of  police,  photographers,  pressmen  and  handlers  and 
drag  the  mike  to  the  fighter's  corner,  and  at  the  same  time 
keep  up  a  running  stream  of  comment  so  that  the  mike  will 
not  go  "dead."  Sometimes  the  invited  one  suddenly  becomes 
dumb  and  the  announcer  must  be  prepared  to  cover  for  him. 

Networks  and  sponsors  sought  good  men  for  such  an 
important  battle  as  the  Louis-Schmeling  bout  held  at  the 
Yankee  Stadium  on  June  22,  1938.  The  choice  fell  on  Clem 
McCarthy,  specialist  in  blow-by-blow;  and  Ed  Thorgersen, 
whose  announcing  was  to  provide  the  "color"  and  between- 
rounds  commentary.  Clem  was  the  veteran;  Ed  had  never 
before  participated  in  a  fight  broadcast. 

Louis  measured  his  man.  Seven  seconds  elapsed  before  a 
blow  was  struck.  The  onslaught  was  swift  and  within  two 
and  a  half  minutes  Louis  battered  Schmeling  into  uncon- 
sciousness with  a  relentless  fusillade  of  lefts  and  rights. 

One  should  first  consider  the  factual  report  of  the  battle 
as  presented  by  James  P.  Dawson  in  the  New  York  Times: 

"Three  times  under  the  impact  of  Louis'  right  hand  the 
German  hit  the  floor.  The  first  time  Schmeling  regained  his 
feet  at  the  count  of  three,  laboriously.  The  second  time 
Schmeling  was  knocked  down,  he  got  up  dazed  and  game, 
bounced  up  instinctively  before  the  count  had  gone  beyond 
one.  On  the  third  knockdown,  Max  Mahon,  Schmeling's 

380  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

backer,  hurled  a  towel  into  the  ring — European  fashion — 
admitting  defeat  for  his  man.  The  towel  went  sailing  through 
the  air  when  the  count  on  the  prostrate  Max  reached  three." 

Referee  Arthur  Donovan,  before  he  had  a  chance  to  pick 
up  the  count  in  unison  with  knockdown  timekeeper  Eddie 
Josephs,  who  was  outside  the  ring,  gathered  the  white  em- 
blem in  a  ball  and  hurled  it  through  the  ropes.  Returning 
to  Schmeling's  crumpled  figure,  Donovan  took  one  look  and 
signalled  the  end  of  the  battle.  The  count  at  that  time  was 
five  on  the  third  knockdown.  All  this  took  place  in  two 
minutes  and  four  seconds.  Surely  the  sudden  climax  would 
test  the  most  experienced  broadcaster. 

The  commentator  must  be  prepared  for  any  contingency. 
Here  was  a  situation  unique  in  the  history  of  championship 
battles.  Clem  failed,  to  a  degree,  as  the  reporter,  that  was 
all.  He  seemed  in  his  manner  to  be  as  much  stunned  and 
surprised  as  were  the  eighty  thousand  patrons  whose  roars 
were  let  out  into  the  night  air  at  the  Yankee  Stadium.  It 
is  an  admirable  thing  to  convey  the  excitement  of  the  battle 
by  breathy  and  excited  tone,  but  this  emotional  touch  must 
be  matched  with  reportorial  sense.  On  this  occasion  Clem 

His  tongue,  it  is  true,  moved  glibly.  The  screaming  of  the 
crowd  was  all  the  more  reason  for  his  eyes  to  be  sharper. 
But  throughout  the  pandemonium  he  was  missing  some  of 
the  vital  drama.  Clem  failed  to  mention  the  towel  of  sur- 
render that  had  been  thrown  from  Schmeling's  corner.  He 
failed  to  mention  that  Schmeling's  trainer,  Machon,  climbed 
into  the  ring  when  the  third  knockdown  punch  landed  and 
that  Donovan  pushed  Machon  back  as  the  knockdown  timer 
counted  ".  .  .  eight."  Had  Clem  continued  for  a  minute 
he  might  have  completed  the  picture,  but  he  called  for  his 
"color"  announcer  with  a  tone  of  relief,  "Come  in  here  and 
describe  the  scene,  Ed." 

Some  critics  complained  that  Clem  could  not  keep  pace 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  38 1 

with  the  blows  which  Louis  shot  to  the  head,  jaw  and  body 
of  Schmeling.  This  is  too  exacting  a  demand.  Twenty-nine 
vital  blows  were  delivered  by  Louis  with  lightning  rapidity. 
The  German's  feeble  effort  at  retaliation  was  easy  to  report. 
The  ex-champion  got  in  exactly  two  right  hand  punches: 
one  of  them  timidly  short;  the  other  blocked  by  Louis.  The 
over-critical  fan  should  try  to  report  each  blow  for  himself. 

The  tale  of  the  battle  was  told  coherently  enough:  "Louis 
stabbed  Max  with  a  left  jab  .  .  .  Louis  then  cracked  him 
high  at  the  temple  ...  a  left  to  the  head;  a  right  .  .  . 
Schmeling  is  down.  The  count  is  three  .  .  .  and  he's  up. 
And  it's  a  left  to  the  jaw  .  .  .  Donovan  is  watching  .  .  . 
Schmeling  is  down,  down  .  .  .  the  count  is  ...  seven  .  .  . 
eight  .  .  .  Max  Schemling  .  .  .  Schmeling  is  beaten  in  one 

Paul  Gallico,  in  his  classic  on  sports,  "Farewell  to  Sports," 
calls  attention  to  the  fight  decisions  that  were  so  bad  around 
New  York  for  a  time  that  a  current  gag  was  to  imitate  a 
fight  broadcaster  who  announces  in  a  crazily  inconsistent 

"Ooooh,  White  is  down  again  .  .  .He  is  up  and  stagger- 
ing around  the  ring  ...  he  is  bleeding.  Oh,  there  goes 
White  down  again  ...  he  gets  up  again  but  is  helpless 
and  Black  batters  him  all  over  the  ring.  White  is  helpless 
...  he  is  bleeding  from  cuts  over  both  eyes  and  the  nose. 
He  goes  down  again  ...  he  won't  get  up  again  ...  he 
won't  get  up  this  time  .  .  .  White  is  out  ...  no  ...  the 
bell  ending  the  final  round  saved  him.  The  bell  rang  at  the 
count  of  six.  Poor  White  never  stirred  .  .  .  Well,  folks, 
here  comes  the  official  decision.  Flash!  White  wins!" 


Football  entered  into  the  field  of  high  finance  when 
broadcasting  took  it  under  its  wing.  Many  a  college  which 

382  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

found  itself  on  the  rocks  during  depression  days  turned  to 
broadcasting  like  a  foster-mother.  The  college  had  but  to 
invest  in  a  strong  team.  Radio  could  be  relied  on  to  spread 
its  prestige  far  and  wide.  Many  a  son  of  Alma  Mater  was 
induced  to  make  heavy  donations  to  the  endowment  fund 
because  through  radio  he  followed  the  crowning  successes 
of  the  football  team.  Funds  poured  into  defunct  college 
treasuries,  new  stadia  dotted  the  land,  and  enrollment  lists 
swelled.  Today  a  meeting  between  topnotchers  and  unbeaten 
rivals  will  pack  any  stadium  and  monopolize  the  radio  dial. 

From  some  curious  sense  of  idealism,  universities  hesitate 
to  offer  their  games  for  sponsorship.  The  first  of  the  big 
games  to  be  broadcast  was  the  Princeton-Chicago  meet  of 
1932.  It  was  not  until  1937  that  Yale  University  decided  to 
sell  its  six  home  football  games  to  a  sponsor  for  the  modest 
sum  of  twenty  thousand  dollars.  From  that  time  on, 
major  college  football  teams  went  definitely  "commercial." 
Colleges  at  last  openly  accepted  the  declaration  of  the 
Rockne- Anderson  period  of  coaching  at  Notre  Dame:  "Give 
any  college  a  good  football  team  and  three  or  four  Saturdays 
a  year  of  national  broadcast  games,  and  that  college  can 
declare  dividends." 

It's  a  reminder  of  what  a  giant  business  football  is  in  the 
United  States.  Some  figures:  American  college  football's 
total  take  in  a  bad  year  has  never,  in  recent  times,  gone 
below  forty  million  dollars.  In  1936  the  figure  was  over 
seventy-five  million  dollars.  The  major  professional  league 
games  bring  out  over  a  million  and  a  half  spectators  in 
nine  cities.  Attendance  at  three  hundred  and  eighty-seven 
games  at  seventy-five  representative  colleges  in  1937  totaled 
seven  million  seven  hundred  and  fifty  thousand.  Fourteen 
colleges  in  1937  built  football  stadiums  that  seat  more  than 
fifty  thousand  spectators  each,  four  of  them,  eighty  thousand 
and  more.  There  is  a  potential  weekly  gate  of  one  hundred 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  383 

thousand  dollars  to  three  hundred  thousand  dollars  for  each 
big  game. 

Collegiate  football  has  definitely  gone  commercial.  Heard 
over  seventy-five  stations  and  voiced  by  over  fifty-two  play- 
by-play  and  commercial  announcers  and  in  addition  to 
twenty-five  spotters  or  observers,  the  Autumn  plans  of  one 
sponsor  include  the  complete  home  line-up  of  twenty-seven 
colleges  located  on  the  Eastern  Seaboard  from  Massachusetts 
to  Florida  as  far  west  as  Columbus,  Ohio. 

Princeton  and  Harvard  are  the  standouts,  and  tradition- 
ally refuse  to  sell  radio  rights  in  order  to  aid  their  own 

Consider  the  extent  of  football  broadcasting  today.  Strong 
teams  with  national  ranking  command  national  attention. 
Traditional  rivals  like  Yale  and  Harvard  and  Army  and 
Navy  are  always  certain  to  command  the  airways.  The  foot- 
ball game  crowds  drama  and  entertainment  into  one,  and 
affords  distraction  to  millions  of  listeners. 

Nearly  two  thousand  games  are  annually  played  on  the 
gridirons  of  America;  over  sixteen  million  spectators  lend 
their  voices  to  cheer  the  players  of  over  six  hundred  colleges. 
Each  Saturday  in  the  East  alone  fifteen  or  twenty  games  are 
on  the  air. 

Network  broadcasting  of  football  games  is  rapidly  on  the 
wane.  The  day  of  the  Ted  Husings  and  Graham  McNamees 
as  football  announcers  is  nearly  at  end,  according  to  Ted 
Husing  himself.  "We're  the  last  of  our  clan,"  he  prophesies. 
Local  stations  are  taking  over  the  broadcasts  in  their  own 
territories  and  instead  of  one  or  two  key  voices  among  the 
big  games  of  1937  nearly  a  hundred  breathless  commentators 
were  heard. 

Football  represents  a  certain  savagery  of  play.  America 
lends  an  ear  because  the  game  stimulates  the  primitive  sense 
of  combativeness.  The  football  stadium  is  the  replica  of  a 
battle  arena.  There  in  the  circumscribed  space  marked  off 

384  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

by  yards,  eleven  men  in  armor,  with  hard  leather  helmets, 
heavy  cleated  boots  and  shock  protectors,  face  eleven  other 
men  similarly  equipped.  Men  are  deployed.  They  go  into 
huddles.  They  charge  at  each  other  at  full  speed  with 
strategy  and  complicated  running.  The  game  calls  for  exact- 
ing physical  courage,  and  expressiveness.  Above  all,  it 
demands  a  certain  type  of  intelligence. 

Modern  football  games  remain  the  most  difficult  of  all 
sports  to  broadcast  accurately.  The  work  tests  the  co-ordina- 
tion of  the  trained  observer.  Many  are  called  to  try  out  for 
this  work  but  few  are  chosen.  The  audition  is  a  tell-tale 
which  sharply  exposes  the  lack  of  talent.  During  1936,  NBC 
went  on  a  vain  search  for  a  new  crop  of  material.  The  net- 
work assigned  various  applicants  to  describe  the  home  games 
of  the  Fordham  and  NYU  teams  on  recording  machines. 
The  records  were  played  back  later  in  the  studies,  but  not 
one  of  the  candidates  tried  out  qualified  for  an  announcer's 
post  at  a  broadcast  game. 

Football  broadcasting,  like  the  game  itself,  exacts  much 
of  the  physical  self.  The  game  itself  covers  only  sixty 
minutes,  but  the  announcer,  if  working  alone,  is  often 
obliged  to  talk  for  three  and  a  half  hours,  almost  without 
interruption,  at  the  rate  of  two  hundred  words  a  minute. 
No  wonder  Ford  Bond  complained  that  after  a  football 
session  at  the  microphone,  his  face  muscles  were  so  tired 
from  talking  that  they  ached  for  twenty-four  hours. 

Each  commentator  in  football  has  developed  his  own 
peculiar  style  and  system.  The  objective  is  the  same:  to 
convey  the  drama  of  the  game,  to  stir  the  imagination  and 
to  make  the  listener  yell  when  the  crowd  in  the  stadium  yells. 
One  critic  declares  that  such  is  the  thrill  of  the  game  for 
actual  spectators  that  football  is  the  one  great  reason  for 
television  to  hurry  up  so  that  fans  may  participate  with 
their  eyes. 

A  fan  once  complained:   "You  ought  to  be  ashamed:   I 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  385 

caught  the  sound  of  joy  in  your  voice  when  the  touchdown 
was  scored."  The  announcer  need  not  put  a  damper  on  his 
enthusiasm.  When  the  crowd  is  thrilled  by  a  brilliant  play, 
stimulate  the  listener  in  even  greater  measure. 

Ted  Husing  is  a  tried  and  true  man  in  football  broadcast- 
ing. Occasionally  he  mixes  up  the  teams,  and  keeps  skipping 
from  figure  to  figure  as  to  which  down  it  is,  and  how  many 
yards  to  go.  But  he  manages  to  convey  a  vivid  picture  so  that 
the  listener  understands  what  is  going  on.  There  is  some- 
thing of  a  complete  formula  in  his  own  analysis  of  his 

'Td  really  like  to  tell  you  what  we  have  found  the  public 
wants,  and  how  it  ought  to  be  done.  But  each  man  has  a 
trick  for  intriguing  listeners,  and  I  hope  I  have  mine.  One 
thing  I  know  is  that  football  needs  a  recreation  of  each 
scene — and  a  lot  of  fast  chatter  to  tell  about  it.  Each  play 
presents  these  things — where  is  the  ball  resting,  how  far 
out  from  the  side  of  the  field,  who  has  possession  of  it,  what 
down  is  it,  who  got  it,  how  did  he  get  it,  what  did  he  do 
with  it  in  trying  to  mask  it,  was  it  a  fake,  a  spin,  a  reverse, 
a  buck,  a  crash,  a  shove,  or  what,  where  did  it  finally  go, 
who  led  the  interference,  why  was  he  hit,  who  hit  him, 
who  stopped  the  play,  where  did  it  stop,  was  it  a  good  play, 
and  then  do  it  all  over  again,  analyze  the  importance  of  the 
play,  and  then  sit  back  and  telephone  Berlin  for  a  chat  with 
Hitler,— bah!" 

The  conscientious  football  broadcaster  devotes  consider- 
able  preparation  to  the  work,  visiting  camps  far  in  advance 
of  the  event  in  order  to  absorb  the  atmosphere.  He  reads, 
crams,  absorbs.  Then  there  are  interviews  with  the  coaches 
and  captains  of  the  rival  teams.  About  two  hours  before  the 
game,  the  commentator  goes  over  the  situation  with  his 
"observers."  Such  research  is  of  the  highest  importance.  It 
gives  that  confidence  without  which  a  commentator  seems 
lost  for  words  and  ideas.  He  dips  into  the  store  of  his  in- 

386  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

formation  when  the  occasion  arises.  Instead  of  gaps,  pauses, 
repetitions,  the  speaker  commands  every  situation.  The 
voice  then  takes  on  the  tone  of  easy  authority,  which  com- 
mands the  listener. 

The  "color  announcer"  must  have  enough  fill-up  material 
to  keep  talking  entertainingly.  Consider:  i.  the  weather; 
2.  the  wealth;  3.  the  bands;  4.  line-up;  5.  coaches;  6.  umpires; 
7.  field  judges;  8.  celebrities  present. 

Football  broadcasting  is  too  much  of  a  task  for  any  one 
man.  It  is  almost  an  impossible  task  to  build  up  each  play 
to  the  split  second.  Most  of  the  announcers  call  on  the  aid 
of  at  least  three  assistants  in  addition  to  the  control  engineer. 
The  first  assistant  keeps  a  record  of  all  plays  for  reference 
and  review.  The  other  two  are  extra  "observers,"  each  of 
whom  is  generally  a  detached  member  from  the  opposing 
teams.  These  are  the  extra  "spotters"  who  are  swift  to  catch 
the  plays  and  who  can  instantly  identify  the  members  of 
their  own  teams. 

The  engineer  sits  alongside  the  announcer  and  by  manipu- 
lating the  knobs  of  the  control  equipment,  keeps  the  picture 
realistic.  The  "color"  story  is  left  to  a  special  events  an- 
nouncer. His  task  is  to  select  those  values  in  the  scene  that 
convey  mass  action  in  every  mood.  And  here  is  where  humor 
must  be  alive. 

Sound  effects  come  to  the  rescue  of  many  a  humdrum 
recital  of  the  announcer.  The  listener  who  has  lost  contact 
through  dreary  talk,  suddenly  is  stirred  by  the  cheer  of  the 
crowds,  the  rollicking  songs  of  Alma  Mater,  and  the  march- 
ing melody  of  the  bands.  The  networks  generally  have  four 
pick-up  mikes  which  are  placed  in  front  of  the  rival  cheer- 
ing sections.  The  mikes  are  numbered  and  by  a  previously 
arranged  signal  system,  the  operator  stands  ready  to  switch 
the  mikes  on  or  off.  No.  3  microphone  may  be  in  front  of 
the  Yale  section.  An  injured  man  is  being  assisted  from  the 
field, — the  Yale  cheering  section  has  risen  as  one  man  and  is 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  387 

giving  him  a  tremendous  hand.  The  announcer  holds  up 
three  fingers  and  the  operator  switches  on  mike  3.  The 
engineer's  task  is  to  see  that  the  "color"  comes  through  loud 
enough  to  be  distinct,  but  not  loud  enough  to  drown  out 
the  commentator's  voice. 

Through  all  the  turmoil  of  the  game  the  broadcaster  and 
his  assistants,  as  a  rule,  present  a  co-ordinated  picture  of 
what  goes  on  before  them.  Their  inaccuracies  are  unim- 
portant and  must  be  overlooked.  Paul  Gallico,  the  veteran 
sports  writer,  pays  tribute  to  the  football  announcer  as  the 
chief  reliance  of  the  average  newspaper  reporter  present  at 
the  game.  He  says  authoritatively: 

"Except  for  descriptive  passages  that  come  through  view- 
ing the  scene  on  the  field,  the  manner  in  which  scoring  plays 
are  executed,  the  football  reporter  may  just  as  well  sit  down 
at  home  by  his  radio  and  prepare  his  report.  It  would  greatly 
shock  his  managing  editor  and  his  public  if  it  became 
widely  known,  but  to  all  intents  and  purposes,  he  does  it 
anyway,  except  that  his  radio  happens  to  be  located  high 
on  the  rim  of  some  concrete  bowl  or  horseshoe,  in  a  glass- 
enclosed  pressbox  if  the  game  is  in  the  Middle  or  Far  West, 
or  exposed  to  the  elements  if  it  is  in  the  East." 

A  commercial  announcer  handles  the  "plugs"  spotted  in 
non-play  periods  to  reach  the  ear  pleasantly.  Blurbing  that 
is  repetitious  and  unrestrained  is  likely  to  fall  on  deaf  ears. 
The  commercials  should  never  be  thrust  on  the  air  during 
action  on  the  field. 

Announcers  never  mention  the  no-hitter  unless  the  hitless 
stretch  is  over,  or  until  the  game  is  over.  The  superstition 
holds  that  such  mention  prematurely  will  break  the  jinx. 

Shall  It  Be  "Pigskin  Lingo"? 

Less  than  ten  per  cent  of  radio  listeners  have  any  definite 
knowledge  of  the  game.  The  uninitiated  merely  catch  the 

388  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

drama  of  two  forces  pitted  one  against  the  other,  in  the 
struggle  over  a  pigskin  ball.  The  average  dialer  is  not  sitting 
before  his  radio  pouring  over  a  book  on  football  rules. 

The  problem  in  broadcasting  is  to  determine  how  the 
game  shall  best  be  conveyed  to  the  listener.  Shall  it  be  a 
series  of  technical  explanations  meant  only  for  the  initiate? 
Or  shall  the  language  and  style  of  broadcasting  be  framed  in 
simple  terms  that  are  easily  understood  by  the  average 
listener?  There  are  those  who  are  not  partial  to  either 
method  as  long  as  there  is  variety  and  dramatic  flavor  to 
the  description. 

Nationally  famous  coaches  like  Chick  Meehan  have  been 
instrumental  in  developing  a  jargon  which  is  foreign  to  the 
average  person.  There  are  hardly  any  synonyms  or  simple 
terms  for  football  technicalities.  Such  terms  as  "fake," 
"lateral,"  "reverse,"  "spinner"  are  not  wrapped  in  mystery 
by  the  expert.  The  average  listener  wants  his  game  presented 
in  understandable  language.  He  has  job  enough  getting 
entertainment  from  his  radio.  The  announcer  who  wishes 
to  command  a  large  following  avoids  a  terminology  that 

Dramatic  situations  are  conveyed  by  picturesque  words 
and  images.  This  gift  for  the  use  of  the  right  word  spells 
the  success  of  many  an  announcer.  Instead  of  saying,  "Doakes 
is  tackled  by  Smith,"  a  more  definite  picture  is  presented 
by  "Doakes  is  spilled  by  Smith."  The  game  abounds  in  a 
specialized  vocabulary  which  should  be  on  the  tip  of  the 

Two  schools  of  broadcasting  now  flourish.  One  thrives  in 
the  Midwest,  the  other  in  the  East,  and  each  has  its  peculiar 
wrinkles.  No  one  has  yet  ventured  to  explain  how  these  re- 
gional variations  crept  into  practice.  The  majority  of  Mid- 
western announcers  are  more  precise.  They  wait  until  the 
play  is  complete  before  describing  it.  The  Eastern  an- 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  389 

noimcers  are  keyed  up  to  speed.  The  announcer  is  right  on 
top  of  the  ball.  He  may  thus  be  fooled  by  a  trick  ball.  In 
such  a  case  he  must  frankly  contradict  himself. 

The  eastern  technique  is  preferred,  because  background 
noises  are  appropriately  blended  and  timed  to  the  "talk." 
Parabolic  microphones  like  huge  searchlights  pick  up  the 
roar  of  the  crowd  while  the  announcer  tells  what  is  going 
on.  Under  the  midwestern  plan  there  is  danger  that  the 
listener  wonders  what  is  going  on  while  he  hears  the  roar  of 
the  crowd. 

Football  Credo 

The  ideal  sports  broadcaster  has  command  of  himself 
and  of  the  scene  at  all  times.  There  are  some  special  con- 
siderations which  apply  to  football  which  we  here  set  down: 

1.  Indicate  the  line-up  with  brief  thumbnail  sketches  of 
the  players,  allowing  for  sufficient  time  for  a  balanced  treat- 
ment of  both  sides. 

2.  Endeavor  to  put  the  play  on  the  air  while  it  is  hap- 
pening. A  delayed  description  is  apt  to  confuse  the  listening 
audience.  The  meaning  of  the  yell  on  any  climactic  turn  is 
totally  lost  if  it  comes  while  the  previous  play  is  being 

3.  Concentrate  on  what  you  are  saying,  not  the  manner 
of  saying  it.  An  honest  participation  in  the  game  will  pro- 
vide words  that  have  the  appropriate  zest  and  emotional 
touch.   Most  commentators  grow  nervous  and  repetitious. 
They  suffer  from  the  strain  of  keeping  fresh. 

4.  Establish   a  fixed  point  of  view.   Ford  Bond  advises 
that  if  you  are  placed  on  the  south  side  of  the  field,  give 
the  listeners  a  layout  of  the  field  with  the  east  goal  and  the 
west  goal.  This  fixity  keeps  you  from  being  confused  and  it 
makes  it  easier  for  the  listeners  to  follow  the  action  play, 
and  to  make  a  chart  of  the  field  if  they  desire. 

5.  If  you  go  "technical"  you  must  be  absolutely  accurate 


every  second.  An  analysis  of  defensive  plays  will  lead  you 
into  the  purely  technical  side  of  the  game. 

6.  The  commentator  must  maintain  an  attitude  of  impar- 
tiality. He  is  the  eye  of  the  radio  audience  which  represents 
a  divided  allegiance.  Be  polite  to  both  sides — no  irony,  no 

A  listener  to  the  broadcast  of  the  Harvard-Princeton  game 
objected  to  the  announcer's  repeated  reference  to  "the 
Bengals"  and  "the  cats"  to  describe  the  Princeton  players 
on  the  ground  that  it  made  it  difficult  for  one  unfamiliar 
with  such  vague  identification  to  follow  the  play. 

7.  Suspense  requires  that  the  audience  be  intermittently 
reminded  which  team  is  ahead  and  by  what  margin. 

8.  The  trend  is  toward  the  technical  report  on  plays. 
There  are  hardly  any  synonymous  or  simple  terms  for  the 
football  language  like  spinner,  reverse  through  the   line, 
lateral,  and  fake.  But  the  judicious  use  of  broad  description 
will  help  to  relieve  the  mass  of  technical  phrasing  so  be- 
fuddling to  those  not  versed  in  the  lore. 

9.  There  are  three  types  of  blundering  gridiron  broad- 
casters. The  first  is  the  admittedly  inexpert  commentator 
who  knows  little  or  nothing  about  the  game.  The  second  is 
the  "know-it-all"  type  who  presents  an  inaccurate  picture 
in  the  attempt  to  give  the  intimate  details  of  every  play 
and  to  pronounce  criticism  of  players  and  officials.   The 
third,  and  more  common  type  is  the  "exaggerator."  He  pre- 
sents every  scrimmage  sensationally.  The  audience  is  led 
to  believe  that  each  game  is  a  succession  of  thrills.   He 
does  not  discriminate.  Every  dull  play  becomes  vital,  and 
climax  is  built  up  where  there  is  none.  One  critic  suggests 
that  their  manner  is  dictated  by  the  fear  that  they  or  their 
stations  might  lose  their  audience   for   the   afternoon,   or 
for  ensuing  programs  if  an  uninteresting  game  were  pgr- 
trayed  as  it  was  played. 

The  exaggerated  style  of  announcing  is  called  the  "high 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  39 1 

style  of  gabbing."  Variety  criticized  Tom  Hanlon  in  a  west- 
ern match:  "It's  all  the  same  to  him  whether  they're  digging 
in  under  the  goal  posts  or  falling  asleep  in  midfield." 

Headaches  and  Heartaches 

A  conscientious  broadcaster  will  visit  the  training  camp 
and  meet  the  players  personally.  Ten  minutes  of  confidential 
talk  with  the  coach  will  give  the  broadcaster  plentiful  dope. 
On  the  day  of  the  game  he  will  be  at  the  scene  of  the  game 
a  few  hours  before  the  kick-off.  In  a  final  conference  with 
the  coaches  of  each  side  he  will  be  advised  as  to  any  new 
formation  and  trick  plays  likely  to  be  used.  He  will  become 
familiar  with  the  nicknames  of  the  players  and  know  which 
men  especially  to  watch.  It  must  be  remembered  from  year 
to  year  the  basic  system  of  each  coach  remains  the  same 
except  for  a  few  names. 

Some  announcers  are  prevented  by  the  pressure  of  their 
studio  assignments  to  get  out  and  study  the  teams  first- 
hand before  the  game.  But  they  manage  to  read  fully  on  the 
subject,  and  on  the  morning  of  the  game  do  a  lot  of 

Husing  is  in  his  sixteenth  year  as  a  football  announcer. 
His  first  football  game  was  Penn-Cornell  game  of  1925.  Ted 
used  to  take  a  two-week  swing  around  the  major  camps  be- 
fore each  season.  Now  he  has  two  scouts  on  the  road  gather- 
ing the  data  and  impressions.  When  the  opening  whistle 
blows,  Ted  will  have  material  on  fifteen  hundred  different 
players  of  the  squads  that  will  see  action  during  the  season. 

Observers  who  know  their  men  will  be  able  to  recognize  a 
player  even  if  he  is  covered  with  muck  and  slime.  At  least 
he  will  make  a  fairly  accurate  guess  as  to  who  it  should  be. 
He  will  be  guided  by  the  shift  in  his  position,  the  manner 
in  which  he  took  the  ball  and  by  those  peculiar  quirks  in 
football  practice  that  only  the  specialist  can  sense. 


The  Notre  Dame-Navy  game  of  1937  was  played  in  a 
blinding  snowstorm.  Bill  Stern,  the  announcer,  could  hardly 
see  the  other  side  of  the  field  and  all  the  yard  lines  were 
covered  up.  The  listeners  are  not  interested  in  alibis.  The 
announcers  must  be  frank  and  see  their  reasons  for  not  doing 
a  good  job. 

Often  just  an  ankle  strap,  an  extra  wide  piece  of  adhesive, 
a  soiled  helmet,  the  physique  of  the  player,  or  a  torn  shirt 
helps  in  the  identification.  Ted  Husing  has  developed  a 
novel  electric  light  annunciator.  It  is  an  electric  device 
which  locates  each  of  the  twenty-two  players  on  a  dial 
lighted  up  by  a  touch  of  the  finger.  The  announcer  watches 
the  offensive  line  and  the  defensive  backfield.  His  assistant 
looks  through  a  powerful  field  glass  mounted  on  a  swivel. 
The  lens  is  always  on  the  ball  controlled  by  a  mere  twist 
of  the  head.  The  moment  the  ball  is  put  into  play,  the  as- 
sistant presses  the  appropriate  button.  The  dial  box  then 
lights  up,  and  instantly  furnishes  the  announcer  with  the 
name.  In  effect,  the  assistant  furnishes  the  names,  while  the 
announcer  is  busy  watching  the  plays. 

Three  hours  is  a  severe  trial  upon  the  eyesight,  the  voice 
and  the  brain  co-ordination  of  any  microphone  speaker, 
especially  a  sports  announcer.  The  best  announcers  become 
inaccurate  as  the  hours  pass.  They  even  become  subject  to  a 
slight  aphasia  and  give  the  wrong  names  to  the  teams.  The 
broadcasting  booth,  to  make  the  work  harder,  is  usually 
located  on  the  far  rim  of  the  arena. 

Correct  pronunciation  of  the  players  is  important.  A 
sports  announcer  who  mispronounced  the  name  of  Alex 
Wojciechowicz,  the  Fordham  All  American  center,  got  ten 
thousand  letters  from  irate  fans. 

The  name  of  the  player  and  action  looms  important  in 
broadcasting.  General  reports  are  not  sufficient.  It  is  not 
enough  to  broadcast:  "Alabama  gains  seven  yards  through 
tackle  .  .  .  California  ran  the  left  end  for  five  yards  .  .  .  Ala- 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  393 

bama  completed  a  fourteen  yard  pass  .  .  ."  The  telephone 
of  the  broadcasting  station  will  be  ringing  with  complaints. 
The  fan  wants  to  know  not  only  "whatswhat"  but  "who- 

Not  every  football  game  has  its  high  dramatic  lights.  The 
announcer's  prayer  is  that  things  do  not  become  too  hum- 
drum. Three  long  hours  of  monotonous  calling  of  plays, 
the  repetitious  chant  of  "they're  again  in  a  huddle,"  "they're 
just  coming  out  of  a  huddle,"  "now  they're  lining  up,"  may 
suddenly  be  broken  by  drama  or  comedy. 

A  last-minute  touchdown  of  Notre  Dame,  a  Fordham- 
NYU  brawl  on  the  field,  a  riot  of  Princeton  students  on 
the  Yale  bowl — these  are  historic  instances.  Routine  chatter 
suddenly  swings  into  dramatic  tonalities.  The  pace  becomes 
swift  and  the  descriptive  touch  more  vivid.  Luck  may  be 
kind  to  the  announcer  and  provide  him  with  plenty  of  ex- 
citement and  diversions.  But  he  must  be  equal  to  the  occa- 
sion with  diction  and  voice. 

A  Final  LQ.  Test  for  the  Football  Broadcaster 

1.  Do  you  know  the  game  from  A  to  Z? 

2.  Have  you  a  system  to  adequately  prepare  yourself  for 
your  broadcast? 

3.  Can  you  translate  rapid  action   into  words  and  talk 
with  "punch"  for  at  least  two  hours? 

4.  Do  you  know  every  play  by  name  and  number? 

5.  Do  you  know  the  history  of  each  player? 

6.  Are  you  provided  with  a  fund  of  human  interest  stories 
and  football  lore  that  can  enchant  the  fan? 

7.  Do  you  use  the  huddles,  the  quarters  and  time  taken 
out  to  talk  glibly  and  entertainingly? 

8.  Can  you  pronounce  each  name  correctly? 

9.  Have  you  developed  a  system  for  the  quick  identifica- 
tion of  the  players? 

394  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

10.  Does  your  speech  indicate  you  have  a   "one-track" 
vocabulary,  or  is  your  diction  varied? 

1 1 .  Have  you  reliable  observers  who  can  tell  when  the 
coach  has  switched  all  the  numbers  of  the  players  so  that 
nobody  will  know  who  is  playing  in  a  brilliant  attempt  to 
confuse  the  opposition. 

12.  Are  you  improving  on  your  graphic  style  by  running 
moving  pictures  of  the  game,  while  you  make  a  running  com- 
mentary for  later  analysis.  Run  the  film  slowly  at  first  and 
gradually  increase  the  tempo. 

The  Smack  of  the  Bat  Heard  'Round  the  World 

Baseball  is  truly  a  national  sport.  Its  stars  are  public 
heroes.  Now  thanks  to  radio,  the  smack  of  the  bat  can  be 
heard  'round  the  world. 

In  the  days  when  Matthewson  pitched,  the  scores  were 
eagerly  watched  as  they  were  chalked  up  on  bulletin  boards 
at  the  half-inning  intervals.  Radio  with  its  immediate  re- 
porting, made  it  possible  for  legions  of  listeners  to  follow 
the  national  game,  play  by  play,  in  the  comfort  of  their  own 
homes.  Baseball  fought  the  intruder,  Radio,  with  stubborn 
resistance.  It  was  feared  that  broadcasting  would  sound  the 
deathknell  of  the  grandstand.  Instead,  radio  repeated  its 
old  miracle.  Fans  stormed  the  gates  of  the  stadium.  Gate  re- 
ceipts mounted.  Interest  in  the  game  took  on  a  revival  and 
expansion.  All  this,  of  course,  refers  to  the  World  Series  and 
to  the  one  all-star  midseason  game  which  is  broadcast  over 
the  networks.  Games  in  the  regular  schedule  have  never 
approached  their  wide  audience.  The  World  Series  is  con- 
sidered the  prize  commercial  program  of  the  year.  Henry 
Ford  was  persuaded  to  sponsor  the  1937  series  at  a  cost  of 
twenty-five  thousand  dollars.  The  Gillete  Razor  took  over 
in  1938  and  1939. 

The  ban  on  broadcasting  is  entirely  lifted.  Owners  of  the 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  395 

major  league  clubs  were  opposed  for  the  most  part  to  broad- 
casting games  at  home,  but  did  not  object  to  a  play-by-play 
account  when  the  teams  are  playing  in  other  cities.  Until 
1938,  the  Yankees,  the  Giants  and  the  Dodgers  had  an  inter- 
club  agreement  which  strictly  prohibited  any  microphone 
in  the  ball  parks  except  for  the  openings  games  and  the 
World  Series. 

Radio's  Toughest  Sports  Job 

The  World  Series  went  on  the  air  for  the  first  time  in 
1926.  Here  was  a  chance  to  prove  to  the  skeptics  what  radio 
could  do  in  the  ways  of  baseball  reporting.  The  sports 
writer  selected  for  the  job  failed  dismally.  Listeners  com- 
plained that  he  mumbled  and  desecrated  the  English  tongue. 
It  was  Graham  McNamee  who  was  called  to  the  rescue  in 
the  second  game  of  the  Series.  His  precise  and  emphatic 
speech  at  once  established  baseball  on  radio,  and  made  him 
famous  as  America's  outstanding  baseball  commentator. 

Why  do  baseball  announcers  complain  that  baseball  is 
difficult  to  broadcast?  The  game  seems  so  easy  to  follow  when 
one  sits  in  the  grandstand.  But  the  spectator  fails  to  notice 
the  pauses  in  the  game.  These  pauses  are  especially  trying 
for  the  broadcaster.  The  good  announcer  fills  these  spaces 
with  shrewd  commentary,  both  factual  and  philosophical, 
that  keeps  the  action  moving.  He  culls  a  wealth  of  observa- 
tions from  the  scene. 

Baseball  is  not  always  a  fascinating  game  to  watch,  nor 
does  it  always  provide  sensational  moments  for  the  stay-at- 
home.  It  has  its  day  of  dull  exhibition  when  players  are 
inert  and  the  doldrums  seem  to  settle  over  the  ball  park. 
But  once  let  the  fates  be  kind,  and  a  hurricane  of  human 
energy  and  ingenuity  will  be  set  into  action. 

The  baseball  fan  is  erudite.  He  knows  all  the  "dope." 
Baseball  fans  "eat  up  statistics."  The  averages  are  com- 

396  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

puted  to  show  the  real  power  of  the  player  at  the  plate. 
Yesterday's  baseball  here  and  today's  successor  live  in  the 
fan's  experience.  He  knows  the  background  of  the  players, 
where  they  came  from  before  they  arrived  on  "big  time." 
He  is  familiar  with  the  achievements  of  batter  and  pitcher. 
He  knows  coach  and  umpire.  Millions  who  do  not  go  to  the 
game  feed  on  the  publicity  in  the  newspapers. 

The  listener's  familiarity  with  his  baseball  family  makes 
the  announcer's  task  both  more  easy  and  more  difficult. 
More  easy,  because  the  listener  needs  only  the  merest  sug- 
gestion to  visualize  the  action;  more  difficult,  because  the 
announcer  must  be  possessed  of  a  dramatic  sense  that  never 

"Covering  the  series  is  radio's  toughest  sports  job,"  says 
Ted  Husing,  "because  you're  talking  to  the  world's  largest 
expert  audience.  They'll  call  you  on  every  error  you  make, 
so  you've  got  to  be  right  and  be  right  the  first  time." 

Shall  the  Color  Story  Be  Scripted? 

Some  degree  of  formalism  has  been  put  into  the  "color" 
story  before  the  game  by  announcers  who  read  their  scripts. 
During  the  series  of  1936,  Gabriel  Heatter  and  Boake  Car- 
ter were  assigned  by  CBS  to  talk  about  the  crowd  and 
things  in  general  before  the  game  began.  Both  were  supplied 
with  typewritten  scripts. 

The  microphone  has  an  uncanny  way  of  revealing  such 
practice.  Listeners  are  more  readily  affected  by  colloquial 
speech  than  by  the  interlacing  of  colorful  words  which  may 
not  be  on  the  tip  of  the  tongue  in  moments  of  excitement. 
Many  a  listener  suspects  that  the  sidelights  were  written  only 
a  few  minutes  prior  to  the  broadcast.  The  true  test  for  the 
broadcaster  lies  in  his  spontaneity,  his  rapid-fire  description. 
It  is  a  gift. 

Gabriel  Heatter  justifies  the  use  of  prepared  copy  on  sev- 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  397 

eral  grounds.  "I  have  a  lot  of  sidelights,"  he  said,  "about 
the  players  and  the  game.  Maybe  I  won't  use  more  than  a 
line  or  two  of  it  or  maybe  I'll  use  it  for  the  whole  fifteen 
minutes  before  the  game  starts.  We  don't  go  on  the  air  until 
both  teams  have  finished  practicing,  all  the  preliminaries 
finished.  All  we  have  to  watch  are  the  ground  keepers 
smoothing  out  the  infield.  In  case  nothing  happens,  fifteen 
minutes  is  a  long  time  to  fill  and  you're  glad  to  have  a  script 
to  fall  back  on,  whether  you  use  it  or  not." 

The  easiest  assignment  for  a  color  announcer  is  the  open- 
ing game  of  the  World  Series  in  Washington.  Here  the  an- 
nouncer can  swing  into  a  dramatic  pace  when  the  president 
arrives  on  the  field.  The  color  announcer  in  the  opening 
game  between  the  Washington  Senators  and  the  Philadelphia 
Athletics  in  1938  was  paced  too  slow.  On  paper,  the  words 
are  descriptive  enough: 

"We  are  looking  at  the  presidential  box  now.  He  will 
come  along  in  a  moment.  A  host  of  camera  men  are  standing 
by.  They  have  a  man  sitting  in  for  the  president.  All  the 
photographers  are  getting  their  focus.  A  host  of  cameramen 
are  standing  by.  Looks  as  if  things  are  going  to  happen 
around  here.  Look  at  the  bleachers  out  there.  Umbrellas 
are  up.  Hope  the  Senators  come  through  in  fine  style  here. 
Depends  on  four  or  five  pitchers.  Then  there  are  the  Ath- 
letics. Several  new  faces.  Rookies.  Means  that  Connie  Mack 
is  trying  out  some  new  material.  An  aeroplane  is  hovering 
overhead.  The  secret  service  men  are  moving  closer.  A  sign 
the  president  is  coming.  Here  he  comes.  The  car  is  moving 
down  the  first  base  line.  There  he  is  now  .  .  .  entering  his 
box  flanked  by  his  military  aides  and  his  son,  Jimmy.  This 
is  his  sixth  game  .  .  .  there  he  stands  now  with  his  famous 
smile  .  .  .  shedding  the  cares  of  State.  Listen  to  that  music  .  .  . 
the  United  States  Army  band  is  in  parade  formation  .  .  . 
marching  ahead  .  .  .  followed  by  both  teams  ...  in  single 
file  ...  for  the  flag  raising.  .  .  .  The  crowd  roars  as  the  presi- 

398  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

dent  winds  up  for  the  benefit  of  the  photographers  .  .  .  there 
goes  the  ball  ...  it  barely  clears  the  heads  of  the  battery 
of  newspapermen  in  front  of  the  box.  .  .  .  Play  balll" 

"Baseball  broadcasting,"  says  Ted  Husing,  "is  a  'soft'  job 
compared  to  football.  Why?  Because  there  is  less  strained 
excitement  and  the  voice  is  not  so  strained.  Any  play  in 
football  can  become  a  scoring  play.  Not  so  in  baseball?" 

A  special  play — and  the  aspect  for  the  spectator  changes; 
he  rejoices;  he  jeers;  he  becomes  a  howling  critic.  At  such  a 
time  the  announcer  finds  escape  from  humdrum  recital.  His 
task  is  to  convey  this  new  stir  to  the  listener  by  properly 
feeding  the  imagination. 

The  fans  with  unbridled  hero  worship  expected  Babe 
Ruth  to  perform.  During  his  Big  League  lifetime,  the  Babe 
hit  seven  hundred  and  twenty-three  home  runs.  He  hit  more 
than  fifty  home  runs  a  season  four  times.  No  player  has 
ever  approached  such  a  life  time  record. 

The  listener  expects  performance  just  as  does  the  spec- 
tator, but  not  every  game  can  be  heralded  as  a  Babe  Ruth 
classic.  Hence,  be  not  too  hard  on  the  commentator  who 
must  report  a  game  that  offers  little  in  the  way  of  tight 
situations  or  skills  that  make  the  fans  exult. 

The  pitcher  winds  up  and  lets  go!  "Strike!"  you  cry.  You 
call  the  play  for  every  ball  pitched.  Suddenly  there  is  a  sharp 
crack.  The  ball  is  hurled  into  the  green  and  tan  surface  of 
the  infield.  The  ball  batter  speeds  hell-bent  for  first  base. 
Your  speech  quickens  as  you  report  these  movements.  You 
follow  the  runner  down  to  the  first  base  and  keep  your  eye 
on  the  ball.  You  are  to  report  on  the  swift  cooperation  of 
infielder  and  first  baseman.  The  infielder  has  swooped  down 
on  the  ball  and  made  a  throw. 

The  capable  broadcaster  can  make  dramatic  situations 
tense  for  the  listener.  Consider  the  fan  who  sits  at  his  dial. 
He  waits  on  the  announcer's  every  word.  The  summarizing 
will  clinch  the  situation  as  it  is  at  the  moment.  Two  strikes 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  399 

and  three  balls;  bases  full;  second  half  of  ninth  inning; 
score  tied;  partisans  in  the  stands  are  letting  out  a  long-drawn 
out  and  derisive  "Booooo!"  The  batter  does  a  little  thinking. 
The  pitcher  staves  a  sizzler  over  the  plate.  Perhaps  it  is 
another  King  of  Swat  whose  lifted  bat  consigns  that  ball 
beyond  the  flagpole  in  center  field! 

Baseball  is  endlessly  intriguing,  full  of  individual  duels 
and  unexpected  situations.  Ordinarily  the  players  and  fans 
pay  little  attention  to  the  complete  lack  of  hits  until  five 
innings  have  passed.  The  game  is  full  of  surprises.  The  com- 
mentator is  forced  on  the  alert.  It  is  these  dramatic  changes 
that  saves  football  on  the  air  from  a  dry-as-dust  cataloguing 
of  balls  and  strikes. 

Every  play  has  a  direct  bearing  on  the  outcome  of  the 
game.  A  stolen  base,  a  hit  or  an  error;  a  double  play;  miracu- 
lous throws  to  the  home  plate  from  the  outfield  or  to  a  base 
— movements  performed  with  an  amazing  accuracy,  swift- 
ness, rhythm  and  timing — such  is  baseball! 

Styles  in  Baseball  Broadcasting 

The  baseball  czar,  Judge  Keneshaw  Mountain  Landis  once 
reserved  the  right  to  select  the  men  who  do  the  announcing, 
and  even  laid  down  rules  as  to  their  manner  of  delivery.  He 
insisted  on  a  correct  play-by-play  account,  untouched  by 
dramatics  in  voice  nor  colored  by  personal  views. 

Some  commentators  develop  a  personal  style  that  fans  en- 
joy. Out  of  the  wealth  of  his  experience  as  a  world  Series 
broadcaster,  Graham  McNamee  offers  his  individual  philos- 
ophy of  reporting:  "I  have  developed  the  detailed  style  of 
reporting.  I  try  to  pack  my  broadcast  with  as  many  facts  and 
incidents  as  possible  to  fill  out  the  picture.  If  a  pitcher  stops 
and  dusts  his  glove  at  a  crucial  moment  or  digs  his  cleat 
into  the  ground,  that's  drama  and  the  fans  ought  to  have  it. 

"The  things  in  the  series  that  have  given  me  the  biggest 

400  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

kicks  are  passing  moments,  the  brilliant  flashes,  which  are 
often  forgotten  afterwards,  a  stolen  base,  a  big  batter  fanned, 
an  incredible  put  out,  a  feat  performed  by  a  player  with 
all  the  odds  against  him.  The  unexpected  and  unpredictable 
which  is  always  happening  in  the  Series." 

The  World  Series  of  1937  showed  a  tendency  to  calmer 
reporting.  Baseball  announcers  used  to  pulsate  in  a  voice  of 
breathless  excitement  on  every  play.  Announcers  who  rely 
on  sensationally  strained  voice  pitches  cannot  reach  first 
base  with  their  listeners.  Such  artificial  dither  grows  mono- 
tonous and  provides  no  balance  for  the  ears.  Only  when 
genuine  excitement  sweeps  the  field,  should  the  voice  rise 
to  emotional  intensities. 

Many  announcers  suffer  from  over-enthusiasm  in  exag- 
gerating plays.  An  infield  pop  is  magnified  into  a  home  run. 
Or  an  ordinary  assist  and  put-out  is  voiced  screamingly  as 
if  it  were  an  event  by  itself. 

Another  school  of  announcers  dampen  the  brilliancy  of 
every  play  by  dull  reporting  and  monotonous  intonation. 

This  is  the  era  of  the  impartial  announcer.  The  tendency 
to  be  over  indulgent  to  the  home-town  fan  must  be  checked. 
The  first  rule  of  sportsmanship  is  to  give  both  sides  an  even 
break  in  reporting. 

With  the  exception  of  Tom  Manning,  who  has  been  be- 
fore the  baseball  microphone  since  1923,  NBC  announcers 
confine  themselves  to  straight,  factual  accounts  of  the  game. 
There  is  always  the  danger  that  factual  reporting  may  be- 
come dull  and  colorless.  Even  straight  reporting  can  be  en- 
hanced by  a  lively  conversational  tone.  The  commentator 
should  be  very  fast,  on  the  top  of  every  play.  The  calling  of 
plays  calls  for  a  certain  crispness  and  dispatch.  There  is 
such  a  thing  as  a  monotonous  drone  making  a  game  deader 
than  it  is  by  calling  the  plays  with  hollow  indifference. 
Try  saying  "Str-i-ke  Three!"  as  if  it  meant  something. 

While  the  fan  resents  the  flagrant  highbrow,  it  is  expected 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  40 1 

that  the  announcer  use  good  diction.  Ted  Husing  at  times 
becomes  too  erudite.  Bill  Slater  has  a  more  polished  and 
suave  approach.  It  is  all  right  for  Connie  Mack  to  refer  to 
his  team  as  AthEletics,  and  no  one  would  holler  about  the 
extra  syllable.  The  commentators  who  supply  a  liberal  use 
of  "dese,  doze  and  dems,"  are  fast  disappearing. 

Two  new  announcers  came  on  the  scene  in  1939.  Experi- 
enced on  local  stations  both  Red  Barbour  and  Arch  Mc- 
Donald established  themselves  with  fans  on  the  networks  in 
the  New  York  area. 

Red  Barbour  was  put  under  contract  to  General  Mills 
which  spends  close  to  one  million  dollars  sponsoring  minor 
league  broadcasts  over  ninety  stations  from  Albany  to  San 

Barbour  was  born  thirty-two  years  ago  in  Mississippi  and 
raised  in  Florida.  His  first  broadcasts  were  for  the  Brooklyn 
Dodgers  (WOR).  His  speech  is  tinged  with  soft  southern 
cadences  that  at  once  catch  the  listener.  He  uses  idioms  pe- 
culiar to  himself.  "The  boys  are  tearing  up  the  pea  patch" 
means  "teamwork  is  tops."  "F.O.B."  implies  "the  bases  are 
loaded."  Barbour's  idiomatic  salary  is  reputed  to  be  twenty- 
five  thousand  dollars  per  year. 

Another  newcomer  to  the  New  York  area  is  thirty-seven- 
year-old  Arch  McDonald  from  Arkansas  who  reported  the 
home  games  of  the  World  Champion  Yankees  and  the  Giants 
over  WABC  for  Wheaties,  Mobiloil,  and  Ivory  Soap.  Arch 
was  once  a  refrigerator  salesman  in  Chattanooga,  but  seeing 
the  baseball  games  interfered  with  business.  He  attracted  a 
huge  following  as  the  "Ambassador  of  Sports,"  at  Washing- 
ton's WJSV.  He  avoids  the  hackneyed  idiom  of  the  average 
announcer.  With  Arch,  a  pitcher  is  a  pitcher  and  not  a 
twirler;  a  catcher  catches,  and  he  does  not  do  the  "receiving 
chore."  The  lingo  he  uses  is  his  own  fresh  from  the  dugout. 
Announcing  a  double  play  for  instance,  Arch  is  likely  to  re- 

4O2  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

port  laconically,  "Two  dead  birds."  His  fans  know  an  easy 
play  as  a  "can  of  corn,"  and  a  slow  ball  as  "the  set  of  dishes." 
A  pitcher  easy  for  a  particular  batter  to  hit  is  that  batter's 
"cousin."  A  hard  hitter  "lays  the  wood  to  it,"  and  base  run- 
ners are  "ducks  on  the  pond." 

The  'Tween  Innings  Announcer 

Baseball  reporting  on  the  air  was  once  considered  strictly 
a  one-man  job.  Today  the  commentator  is  joined  by  at  least 
one  "newspaper  story"  announcer  who  gives  general  descrip- 
tions before  and  after  the  game.  The  "observer"  attached  to 
the  announcer  does  not  actually  observe  and  report  the  play 
as  in  football.  His  function  is  to  keep  track  of  statistical  de- 
tail— the  number  of  times  at  the  bat,  putouts,  assists,  and  the 

The  arrangement  of  announcers  varies.  Two  plans  are  in 
use.  Two  announcers  may  cooperate  in  the  manner  of  a  fight 
broadcast.  The  one  may  be  called  the  "play-by-play"  an- 
nouncer, the  other  the  "between-innings"  announcer.  The 
"between  innings"  announcer  summarizes  the  preceding  in- 
ning, makes  observations  missed  by  his  partner  and  manages 
to  squeeze  in  the  "commercials." 

In  the  second  plan,  two  announcers  are  assigned  to  the 
baseball  park.  Both  act  as  "play-by-play"  commentators  at 
the  end  of  the  fifth  or  sixth  inning,  the  first  announcer  re- 
tires and  gives  way  to  the  second.  This  relay  arrangement 
allows  for  new  blood  at  a  time  when  the  first  announcer  may 
begin  to  sag.  A  fresh  voice  has  the  tonic  effect  of  reviving 
the  listener.  The  play-by-play  announcing  is  continuous. 

There  is  drama  wrapped  around  that  rawhide  ball.  The 
announcer  must  follow  its  every  movement.  The  fan  is 
self-trained  in  the  process  of  visualization.  All  he  needs  is 
a  verbal  lift.  The  listener  needs  those  factual  aids  that  en- 
able him  to  picturize  the  speed  of  the  ball,  the  peculiar 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  403 

quality  of  its  delivery,  where  it  passes,  and  what  happens  to 
it  on  the  way  to  the  catcher's  mitt. 

The  merest  details  take  on  importance  as  the  game  pro- 
gresses. The  pitched  ball  that  strikes  the  batter  may  change 
the  course  of  empire.  A  catch  that  is  fumbled  may  spell  woe. 
A  sprained  ankle  may  prove  calamitous.  A  left-handed 
pitcher  in  the  box,  or  a  left-handed  batter  at  the  plate  pre- 
sents special  problems.  The  stance  at  the  plate  is  important. 
Joe  di  Maggio  had  a  flat  footed  stance;  Red  Sox  Manager 
Joe  Cronin,  a  wide  open  stance. 

The  listener  is  on  the  alert  for  these  details  to  complete 
his  judgment  of  events.  The  announcer  therefore  gives  swift 
summaries  of  the  performance  of  each  player  as  he  steps 
to  the  bat.  In  this  way,  the  listener  gets  the  sweep  of  the 
game  backwards  and  forwards. 

As  a  rule,  left  handed  batters  have  great  success  against 
right-handed  pitchers  because  the  ball  curves  in  toward 
them.  Conversely  right  handed  batters  have  better  success 
against  left  handed  pitchers. 

Experienced  announcers  can  usually  tell  what  kind  of 
ball  is  coming  by  the  way  the  ball  leaves  the  hand  of  a 
pitcher;  whether  it  is  going  to  be  a  curve  or  fast  ball.  But 
do  not  anticipate  the  umpire.  You  might  get  fooled.  An  um- 
pire is  called  upon  to  make  from  one  hundred  and  seventy- 
five  to  three  hundred  decisions  a  game — decisions  that  must 
be  spontaneous,  accurate,  firm. 

The  way  to  the  baseball  microphone  is  paved  with  the 
best  intentions.  The  only  training  school  for  baseball  an- 
nouncers is  a  microphone  and  the  play  on  the  diamond. 
The  fact  a  man  is  a  writer  on  sports  or  an  ardent  fan  may 
give  powerful  assurance  of  success,  but  the  test  lies  in  actual 
oral  performance. 

How  can  the  aspiring  baseball  announcer  get  the  practice? 
The  problem  is  not  an  easy  one.  From  the  standpoint  of 
continuity  in  reporting,  it  is  simple  enough  to  make  quick 

404  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

notes  of  the  action  while  it  is  going  on.  The  next  step  would 
be  to  speak  before  a  recording  machine  and  translate  the 
action  into  an  authentic  aural  scene  for  the  listener.  Now 
you  have  your  words  engraven  on  the  disc.  Play  it  over, 
study  your  oral  sense  of  baseball  drama.  Get  some  audience 
reaction  in  your  own  parlor.  Try  it  on  your  dog — anything 
— to  persuade  your  own  sensibilities  that  you'd  make  a  cap- 
able broadcaster  equal  to  the  best  of  them.  At  the  Polo 
Grounds  and  the  Yankee  Stadium,  the  announcers  sit  in  a 
little  booth  partitioned  off  at  one  end  of  the  press  box. 

The  between-innings  announcer  adds  those  spicy  little 
items  that  are  of  themselves  interesting  and  outstanding; 
the  sensational  catches,  the  arguments,  injuries,  behavior  and 
reactions  of  the  crowds  and  the  teams.  Time  out  and  change 
of  pitchers  represents  invaluable  minutes  in  which  the  an- 
nouncers can  catch  up  and  always  add  a  spicy  paragraph 
or  two.  Baseball  runs  on  leisurely  enough  to  give  the 
announcer  time  to  take  in  all  details  of  a  play.  Trivial 
things  loom  important.  Who  picked  the  play?  Why  was  an 
outfielder  shifted?  Was  the  last  curve  slow  or  fast?  The  an- 
nouncer must  be  on  the  alert. 

World  Series  announcers  are  under  severe  tension.  They 
sit  at  their  microphones  with  the  air  of  grim  earnestness  and 
none  of  the  gaiety  of  a  spectator  at  a  ball  game.  They  must 
be  keen  to  catch  the  plays  accurately.  A  radio  editor  explains 
this  tension  thus:  "A  fan  can  be  wrong  about  what  he  sees 
but  not  the  announcer." 

The  King  of  Sports 

Throughout  the  ages,  racing  has  held  the  undisputed  title 
of  king  of  sports.  Once  the  populace  surged  into  the  arena  to 
see  the  chariots  sweep  around  the  course  for  the  entertain- 
ment of  the  Caesars.  Now  millions,  far  and  wide,  tune  in  for 
the  racing  thrill  that  is  denied  them  as  actual  spectators.  A 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  405 

vicarious  thrill  it  is,  but  it  is  nonetheless  this  thrill  which 
commentators  must  convey.  Horse  racing,  indeed,  offers  for 
the  listener  a  concentrated  excitement  greater  than  that  de- 
rived from  any  other  sport.  When  men  and  women  have 
money  invested  on  a  horse,  no  artificial  stimulus  to  their 
imagination  is  required. 

Statisticians  agree  that  the  public's  loss  at  the  sixty  thous- 
and handbooks  exceeds  one  and  a  half  billion  dollars  per 
year,  with  an  additional  loss  covered  by  a  three  hundred 
million  dollar  loss  at  pari-mutuel  tracks. 

The  very  briefness  of  a  horse  race  makes  it  ideal  for  radio 
broadcasting.  A  baseball  game  lasts  two  hours,  a  boxing 
match  an  hour,  a  football  game  two  and  a  half  hours;  but  a 
horse  race  rarely  takes  more  than  two  minutes  in  the  actual 
running.  Including  picturesque  details  of  the  setting,  the 
entire  sequence  of  the  race,  course  and  finish  can  be  en- 
compassed within  the  space  of  fifteen  minutes. 

The  racing  commentator,  during  important  races  like  the 
Derby,  is  put  on  his  mettle  more  than  the  commentator  in 
any  other  field  of  sports.  This  is  because  he  is  dealing  with  an 
audience  sophisticated  in  racing  lore.  Thousands  have  been 
studying  racing  forms  for  months  in  anticipation  of  the  race. 
From  expert  newspaper  reports,  they  know  all  about  the 
horses,  the  jockeys,  the  owners,  the  past  performances,  and 
a  host  of  minor  details.  One  slip,  and  the  announcer  is  im- 
mediately raked  over  the  coals  by  the  fans.  ''As  accurate  as 
a  camera"  is  the  way  Bryan  Fields  describes  those  eyes  of 
his  which  follow  the  horses.  He  has  called  the  right  horses 
in  every  camera  finish.  And  that  is  a  severe  test  for  an 

/  Hear  Them  Calling 

A  high  degree  of  specialization  is  required  in  the  broad- 
casting of  racing  events.  In  1928  Graham  McNamee  tried 
his  skill  at  several  races  for  NBC.  When  the  important  Bel- 

406  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

mont  Races  came  up,  Graham  was  advised  that  he  had  better 
get  some  expert  help  for  the  event.  When  he  asked  an  execu- 
tive on  whom  he  could  rely,  he  was  told  that  Bryan  Field, 
who  was  standing  by  was  "as  good  as  any."  Thus  Field 
was  inducted  as  a  commentator  of  horse  racing. 

Bryan  Field  already  had  acquired  his  knowledge  of  horses 
as  racing  reporter  for  the  New  York  Times.  He  had  seen 
more  than  eighteen  thousand  races  and  could  write  with 
facility  about  every  phase  of  the  sport.  He  became  master 
of  the  difficult  art  of  "calling"  which  is  essential  for  the  turf 

"Calling"  is  placing  the  horses  as  they  pass  the  various 
distance  poles  in  a  race,  making  known  the  relative  posi- 
tion of  the  entrants  one  to  the  other.  Without  this  gift  for 
"placing,"  no  one  can  perform  a  successful  job  of  broad- 

"It  is  an  instinctive  combination  of  three  items  which 
makes  a  true  'caller',"  explained  Field.  "You  must  know  the 
silks,  the  mannerisms  of  each  jockey,  and  the  color,  size  and 
mannerisms  of  each  horse.  You  eventually  get  so  that  the 
hunch  of  a  jockey,  the  shape  of  a  horse's  head,  its  gait, 
enable  you  to  identify  immediately  horse  and  jockey.  Even 
if  it  comes  up  mud,  as  we  say  at  the  track,  you  still  can  call 
'em,  despite  the  fact  that  their  silks  may  be  one  gray  smear 
of  mud  rather  than  any  particular  color." 

Bryan  Field  has  a  rival  in  Clem  McCarthy,  who  knows 
his  horses  by  their  fetlocks.  Clem's  first  big  race  on  the  Radio 
was  the  Kentucky  Derby  in  which  he  announced  Blue  Lark- 
spur's victory.  In  1931  he  was  sent  to  England  to  broadcast 
the  Grand  National  Steeplechase,  but  the  British  did  not  use 
his  talents. 

While  not  as  intensely  dramatic  as  McCarthy,  Field  holds 
the  exciting  pace  in  voice.  The  listener  enjoys  a  human  and 
refreshing  touch  at  times.  There  came  a  moment  in  the 
Kentucky  Derby  when  in  trying  to  recall  the  position  of  the 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  407 

seven  horses,  Field  momentarily  forgot  the  California  entry, 
Riskilus,  in  last  place.  He  rattled  off  the  six  leaders  and  then 
trying  to  recall  Riskilus,  he  said,  "In  last  place  is  ...  is  ... 
what  the  hell  is  that  other  horse?" 

The  usually  steady  Clem  McCarthy  succumbed  to  the  ex- 
citement of  the  Seabiscuit-War  Admiral  race  in  1938.  For 
the  last  half  he  just  kept  yelling  excitedly,  "They're  neck 
and  neck,"  forgetting  to  mention  where  the  horses  were 
until  just  before  the  finish  line. 

A  classic  event  like  the  Santa  Anita  Sweepstakes  or  the 
Kentucky  Derby  requires  at  least  three  announcers,  for  a 
full,  rounded  commentary.  The  "opening  announcer"  gen- 
erally has  the  task  of  weaving  the  commercials  into  his  in- 
troductory announcement.  The  "color"  announcer  seizes 
upon  any  aspect  of  the  scene  which  will  give  a  vivid  picture 
to  the  listeners.  The  "technical"  announcer  calls  the  horses 
and  follows  the  dramatic  movement  of  the  race.  All  their 
efforts  are  deftly  co-ordinated  to  give  a  full  picture  of  the 
race — historical  background  of  the  race  and  the  entries, 
weather  and  conditions  of  the  track,  betting  odds,  entry  list 
or  scratches,  the  order  of  post  positions,  interview  with 
jockeys,  owners,  celebrities,  and  the  details  that  comprise 
the  dynamics  of  the  event.  To  know  how  and  when  to  inte- 
grate all  these  elements  is  a  flexible  art. 

The  Kentucky  Derby  of  1937  displayed  Clem  McCarthy  at 
his  best.  He  filled  the  requirements  of  dramatic  suspense, 
sharp  eyesight,  and  a  ready  vocabulary  spoken  with  appro- 
priate gusto. 

The  "opening  announcer"  draws  the  curtain  for  the  listen- 
ers: "This  is  Lyon  Van  reporting  to  you  at  the  top  of  the 
booth  at  Louisville,  Kentucky  .  .  .  today's  broadcast  comes 
to  you  through  the  courtesy  of  Raleigh  .  .  .  Kool  Cigarette 
.  .  .  the  winner  must  have  extra  stamina  to  win  that  quarter 
mile  ...  it  takes  extra  stamina  .  .  .just  what  Raleigh  gives 

408  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

you  .  .  .  but  right  now  here  is  Charlie  Lyons  who  will  tell 
you  what  is  going  on  below." 

The  bugle  blares  to  the  call  of  "Boots  and  Saddles."  The 
parade  out  of  the  paddock  starts.  Satin-coated  horses 
mounted  by  jockeys  in  multi-colored  silks  are  moving  ahead. 
The  band  strikes  up  "My  Old  Kentucky  Home,"  and  south- 
ern chivalry  will  be  displaying  itself  at  its  best. 

The  "color"  announcer  surveys  the  scene  for  the  listener: 
"There  are  eighty  thousand  in  the  grand  stands,  thirty  to 
forty  in  the  fields  .  .  .  the  weather  is  perfect  .  .  .  this  year 
all  is  well  .  .  .  the  sunshine's  bright  in  Kentucky's  home  to- 
night .  .  .  the  track  is  in  excellent  condition  .  .  .  but  I'll  leave 
the  technical  description  to  Clem  McCarthy  .  .  .  they're  all 
here  .  .  .  Jack  Dempsey  .  .  .  Governor  Landon  .  .  .  let's 
get  right  down  into  the  paddock  and  see  what  Clem  will  say." 

And  here  is  where  listeners  are  stirred  by  the  throaty  stac- 
cato of  Clem  McCarthy's  "Thank  you  .  .  .  thank  you  .  .  . 
here  we  are  on  the  grandstand  .  .  .  now  you  can  hear  the 
bugle  down  there  .  .  .  they're  calling  them  out  .  .  ." 

Things  do  not  always  turn  out  smoothly.  Often  there  is 
a  delay  at  the  post.  High  spirited  thoroughbreds  remain 
fractious  even  under  the  most  powerful  coaxing  of  the  jock- 
eys. Minutes  of  anxiety  pass — eight  minutes  in  the  1937  Ken- 
tucky Derby,  which  Clem  broadcast.  These  minutes  pulse 
with  excitement.  The  horses  are  nervous,  the  crowd  in  the 
stands  is  nervous,  and  so  should  be  the  listeners.  A  skilled 
broadcaster  knows  how  to  convey  this  impression  by  descrip- 
tive touches  and  phrases  that  quicken  the  senses  and  mirror 
the  cavorting  of  the  horses. 

"Yes,  they  are  behaving  nobly  .  .  .  there  they  are  .  .  .  and 
War  Admiral  is  just  coming  up  ...  and  there  is  Melodist 
.  .  .  and  just  now  Sunset  Trail  2d  broke  out  .  .  .  Merry 
Maker  is  taking  a  can  .  .  .  and  Sunset  Trail  is  a  little  bit 
fractious  .  .  .  Reaping  Reward  never  looked  better  .  .  .  he's 
not  a  big  fellow  .  .  .  but  he's  a  beautiful  brown  .  .  .  Military 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  409 

has  not  yet  taken  his  position  .  .  .  Pompoon  is  finally  walk- 
ing to  his  stall  .  .  .  War  Admiral  is  turning  around  in  his 
stall  ...  as  well  behaved  as  War  Admiral  can  be  ...  they'll 
be  away  in  just  a  second  .  .  .  and  it  looks  like  an  instant  .  .  . 
War  Admiral  has  just  walked  out  of  his  stall  .  .  .  Bernard  F. 
is  cutting  up  just  a  little  bit  .  .  .  this  War  Admiral  is  moving 
back  through  the  gate  .  .  .  no,  no,  no  ...  still  fractious  .  .  . 
War  Admiral  is  delaying  the  start  .  .  .  walking  in  and  out 
of  the  barrier  .  .  .  Heel  Fly  is  at  it  again  ...  I  don't  see  why 
those  horses  don't  get  killed  .  .  .  back  into  your  stall  .  .  .  War 
Admiral  is  rocking  in  and  out  ...  ah,  ah,  Heel  Fly  is  upset 
...  I  wouldn't  be  surprised  if  Gray  Gold  wouldn't  turn  a 
somersault  .  .  .  no,  Heel  Fly  backed  out  again  ...  if  the 
horses  don't  get  set  they'll  have  a  hard  time  .  .  .  War  Ad- 
miral ...  get  steady  .  .  .  stand  still  .  .  .  watch  that  Heel  Fly 
...  I  can't  see  starter  Hamilton  .  .  .  he's  hiding  .  .  .  now 
Pompoon  has  taken  to  a  little  cutting  up  ...  no  change  in 
any  of  the  artists  .  .  .  War  Admiral  is  a  favorite  .  .  .  then 
Reaping  Reward  .  .  .  THEY'RE  OFF!" 

A  tense  two  minutes  ensues.  Clem  must  keep  a  verbal 
pace  with  the  horses  neck  to  neck.  "They  are  fighting  on 
the  lead  .  .  .  the  horses  round  the  course  .  .  .  War  Admiral 
is  setting  the  pace  .  .  .  Melodist  is  in  fourth  place  .  .  .  Heel 
Fly  is  driving  hard  .  .  .  Melodist  is  up  there  in  fourth  place 
at  the  quarter  mile  .  .  .  and  Pompoon  is  slipping  .  .  .  Fairy 
Hill  is  second  by  a  length  .  .  .  and  now  War  Admiral  leads 
.  .  .  it's  going  to  be  a  photographic  finish  ...  an  eyebrow 
finish  .  .  .  it's  very  close  .  .  .  it's  War  Admiral  ..." 

The  microphone  is  then  turned  over  to  the  "color"  an- 
nouncer. This  is  a  breathing  spell  to  provide  a  moment  to 
get  the  official  decision  disclosed  by  the  photographs  as  well 
as  the  official  time.  The  assistant  announcer  "colors"  the 
changing  scenes  at  the  paddock.  His  voice  and  manner  by 
way  of  contrast  must  be  relatively  calm,  after  the  hectic 
report  of  the  race. 

41O  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

Nice  judgment  is  required  as  to  the  exact  moment  when 
the  microphone  is  to  be  handed  over  to  the  "color"  an- 
nouncer. All  this  is  a  matter  of  timing  and  evaluation  of 
the  complete  picture  of  the  race  to  be  presented. 

At  the  Santa  Anita  races  of  1937,  Clem  had  as  his  color 
announcer  Ken  Carpenter.  Toward  the  end  of  the  broad- 
cast, Clem  clinches  his  recital  with  a  rapid  summary.  "But 
let's  get  Ken  Carpenter  in  here,"  Clem  is  saying.  "How  about 
the  rest  of  the  picture?"  The  two  commentators  then  enter 
into  racy  dialogue.  This  is  a  device  to  relieve  the  monotony 
of  straight  discourse.  Significant  details  and  highlights  are 
disclosed,  and  the  order  of  the  winners  repeated.  "The  gross 
was  one  hundred  and  thirty-six  thousand  dollars.  The  win- 
ner took  ninety  thousand  seven  hundred  dollars.  It  cost 
each  winner  eleven  thousand  dollars,"  says  Clem  briskly  as 
he  leaves  the  sign-off  to  Carpenter.  "We've  had  a  tremendous 
day  here  at  Santa  Anita." 

Microphone  Control 

In  practice,  the  supervising  engineer  makes  a  preliminary 
survey  of  the  track.  He  selects  the  best  available  vantage 
point  for  the  commentator  and  his  assistants.  The  com- 
mentator must  have  a  clear  view  of  the  track,  and  the  broad- 
casting apparatus  is  placed  where  least  interference  is  en- 

The  next  step  is  the  placement  of  lines  between  track 
and  master  control  which  includes  one  private  talk  line 
and  radio  lines  for  airing  the  program.  These  lines  are  free 
from  all  telephone  communication  and  are  run  into  the 
broadcast  booth.  The  master  control  in  the  studio  is  then 
checked  and  the  commentator  awaits  the  signal  to  start. 

The  timing  of  such  a  broadcast  is  almost  perfect.  With  a 
wave  of  the  hand,  the  control  engineer  directs  the  man  at 
the  microphone  to  start  his  patter.  The  bugle  may  be  calling 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  411 

the  horses  to  the  post  as  the  speaker  begins  his  description 
of  the  parade. 

Veterans  of  race  track  broadcasting  seldom  experience  any 
mike  fright.  Bryan  Field  admits  laboring  under  a  tension 
only  when  the  horses  are  put  into  the  respective  stalls. 
Horses  at  the  post  require  the  most  concentrated  watching. 
It  is  this  strain  on  the  senses  that  makes  racetrack  reporting 
a  difficult  art,  no  matter  how  trained  the  expert. 

The  broadcaster  talks  freely  into  a  specially  equipped 
microphone  which  he  wears  on  his  chest.  Both  hands  are  free 
to  permit  him  to  observe  the  progress  of  the  race  through 
binoculars.  Once  the  horses  are  off  the  commentator  swings 
into  the  second  phase  of  his  work.  Calling  the  leaders  in  a 
race  is  not  sufficient.  The  place,  the  style  and  manner  of 
running,  the  duels  for  leadership  in  the  home  stretch — all 
these  are  details  of  the  picture  which  are  filled  in  with  mas- 
terful verbal  strokes. 

Few  experts  are  able  to  combine  extensive  knowledge 
with  an  ability  to  talk  fast,  naturally  and  colorfully.  Rhet- 
orical devices  are  useful.  Clem  indulges  in  apostrophe,  ad- 
dressing the  horses  familiarly:  "Steady  there!  War  Admiral, 
steady.  Steady,  old  boy." 

The  commentator  presents  the  pattern  of  the  race  to  the 
listener  first  as  an  artist  close  to  the  color,  life  and  rhythm 
of  the  streaming  pack  of  animals;  next  he  is  the  factual  re- 
porter conveying  the  swift  progressive  stages  in  the  victory 
of  a  horse. 

Shall  it  Be  British  in  Sports  Broadcasting? 

Styles  in  broadcasting  find  reflection  in  national  tempera- 
ment. In  the  field  of  sports,  American  and  British  broad- 
casting stand  out  in  the  same  strong  contrast  as  does  the 
mode  of  speech  and  general  characteristics  of  the  people. 

Unrestraint  is  unbecoming  to  the  British  sense  of  stability. 

412  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

What  is  regarded  by  Americans  as  stodgy  and  slow  satisfies 
the  British  tradition  and  poise.  The  British  are  altogether 
upset  by  American  Sports  broadcasters  who  aim  to  pour  a 
volley  of  words  into  the  microphone. 

Americans  are  inclined  to  ridicule  British  sports  broad- 
casting as  slow  and  stodgy.  The  British  do  not  believe  that 
the  rapid  attack  of  words  must  go  on  whether  anything  is 
happening  or  not.  Most  British  sports  announcers  merely 
instance  in  their  recital  that  national  characteristic  of  the 
British  microphone,  "Reserve." 

The  booming  vocal  method  of  our  American  sports  an- 
nouncers which  began  with  the  advent  of  Graham  McNamee, 
to  the  British  ear  represents  an  emotional  imbalance  in 
description.  R.  C.  Lyle,  who  described  the  turf  events  of 
the  British  Broadcasting  Corporation,  speaks  in  a  leisurely 
conversational  and  unimpassioned  manner.  In  presenting  a 
word  picture  of  the  running  of  the  English  Derby  from  the 
track  at  Epsom  Downs,  Mr.  Lyle  said,  "There  is  nothing  to 
worry  about  at  the  moment."  His  description  of  the  track 
was  typically  British:  "The  course  is  about  a  mile  and  a  half 
although  we  are  not  concerned  with  such  details  over  here. 
I  say  'about  a  mile/  It  might  be  a  hundred  yards  more  or 
less.  I  doubt  if  anyone  has  ever  taken  the  trouble  to  measure 
it  or  if  anyone  ever  will." 

Let  us  be  fair  to  the  British  announcers.  Very  often  Amer- 
ican announcers  get  into  a  dither  of  excitement,  and  the 
listener  later  discovers  that  much  has  happened.  English 
announcers  by  their  very  calmness,  make  the  sports  combat 
a  matter  for  judicial  appraisal.  It  takes  much  longer  for  a 
British  announcer  to  make  up  his  mind  what  has  happened. 
He  fills  in  time  with  general  impressionistic  terms.  He  is 
not  chiefly  concerned  with  a  blow-by-blow  treatment.  His 
literary  graces  never  leave  him,  on  the  theory  that  broad 
description  presents  a  better  picture  to  the  listener.  The 
heavyweight  fight  between  Max  Baer  of  California  and 

RADIO    ERA    OF    SPORTS  413 

Tommy  Fair,  the  Welshman,  in  May  1937,  reached  Ameri- 
can listeners  by  short  wave.  The  broadcast  was  a  striking 
example  of  the  divergent  method  of  American  and  British 
sports  announcing.  For  purposes  of  record,  here  are  choice 
passages  heard  by  American  listeners  from  Harringay  Arena 
in  London: 

"Baer  comes  into  the  ring  but  he  doesn't  shake  hands 
with  himself."  "They  are  just  playing  ping  pong  now." 
And  when  Baer  seemed  angry:  "Baer  is  rawther  exercised 
just  now."  "Now  they're  hugging  each  other  in  the  center." 
"Baer  is  flicking  his  nose  and  well  he  might."  At  the  finish 
came  this  morsel,  "Farr  is  bleeding  very  nicely." 

Or  these:  "Baer  is  standing  up  like  a  lighthouse.  The 
scene  shifts  and  Baer  is  back  in  his  corner.  It  would  really 
appear  that  Farr  was  out  to  strangle  him.  Baer  is  winking 
at  him  in  gentle  reproof.  He  is  a  real  comedian,  this  Baer. 

"Baer  is  grinning,  although  it  is  difficult  to  tell  what  he 
is  grinning  about,  as  Farr  definitely  has  the  edge.  The  Amer- 
ican seems  to  be  doing  most  of  the  leading  with  his  nose. 
Farr's  keen  as  mustard,  full  of  initiative  and  courage.  Baer's 
eye  is  closing,  his  face  is  bleeding  .  .  .  There  were  four 
beautiful  punches  by  Farr,  flicker,  flicker,  flicker  .  .  .  Baer's 
got  his  back  to  me  like  a  great  barn  door  .  .  .  now  he's  turned 
around  .  .  .  Baer  is  so  handsome  and  rather  truculent  but 
looks  the  least  bit  pensive  .  .  .  you  can  hear  the  roar  of  the 
crowd,  like  an  ocean  wave,  every  time  Farr  hits  him." 

Finally  the  announcer,  with  a  casualness  that  no  one  but 
an  Englishman  can  understand,  announced  Farr  the  winner, 
in  some  such  words,  "Every  Englishman  must  be  proud  of 
him  for  it  was  an  exhibition  of  pure  English  boxing." 

An  American  listener  satirically  declared  that  he  opined 
the  fight  was  merely  a  game  of  tag  for  very  few  punches 
were  called.  The  broadcaster  sounded  as  if  he  were  anxious 
to  get  away  for  his  cup  of  tea. 

The  dignity  of  British  sports  broadcasting  is  in  the  hands 


of  the  BBC,  which  does  not  trust  itself  to  "that  shocking 
American  accent."  Britannia's  air  waves  were  represented 
at  the  Louis-Schmeling  fight  of  1938  by  a  special  British 
commentator.  During  the  1937  Olympic  ice  hockey  games 
at  Garmisch-Partenkirchen,  the  British  assigned  Robert 
Bowman,  a  young  Canadian  whose  virtues  seemed  unknown 
to  them  at  the  time,  although  he  had  been  an  announcer 
for  eighteen  months.  He  had  all  the  gusto  and  mounting 
verbal  climaxes  of  the  American  announcer,  piling  on  such 
phrases  as  "Here  we  are  folks,  huddled  right  down  in  the 
clear,  brisk,  cold  waiting  for  .  .  .  oh,  boy,  what  a  shot!  what 
a  shot!  ...  I  wish  you  could  have  seen  it,  folks." 

That  was  the  last  of  Robert  Bowman.  A  flood  of  letters 
complaining  about  the  American  accent  poured  into  Broad- 
casting House  in  London.  Bowman  was  gently  put  off  the 
air,  and  the  order  went  forth  that  thereafter  announcers 
were  to  maintain  the  official  BBC  manner  of  sports  por- 
trayal— free  from  emotional  sway,  impersonal,  contained. 

Our  sports  broadcasts  have  nevertheless  won  praise  from  a 
section  of  the  British  public.  Collie  Knox,  radio  editor  of 
the  London  Daily  Mail,  grew  enthusiastic  about  the  airing 
of  the  Kentucky  Derby  by  Clem  McCarthy,  and  in  a  special 
article  he  said:  "The  broadcast  of  the  Kentucky  Derby  de- 
pressed me.  It  depressed  me  because  it  was  so  perfectly  done. 
The  commentators  had  pep,  humor  and  knowledge.  They 
made  the  race  live.  Now  ask  me  why  we  cannot  get  such 
broadcasters  over  here.  Or  rather  why  we  don't.  It  must  be 
some  form  of  national  repression." 

British  fight  announcers  have  much  more  latitude  than 
is  the  American  practice.  During  the  progress  of  the  fight, 
they  freely  voice  their  opinions  as  to  who  is  winning  and 
they  may  also  criticize  the  mode  of  fighting.  American  an- 
nouncers express  no  v  opinions — that  being  the  duty  of  ap- 
pointed referees  and  judges. 



DISCOVERY  of  powerful  value  of  the  microphone  for 
political  speakers  was  not  made  until  the  Democratic 
Convention  of  1932.  The  instrument  had  found  a  master  in 
Franklin  D.  Roosevelt.  Roosevelt,  a  new  and  friendly  voice, 
tinged  with  the  sincerity  of  colloquial  phrases  that  captured 
the  ears  of  the  nation,  was  swept  into  public  office  and 
earned  the  soubriquet  of  "Radio  President." 

The  G.O.P.  Convention  in  1924  was  a  mild  affair  com- 
pared with  the  prolonged  session  which  nominated  Gov- 
ernor Cox  at  Madison  Square  Garden.  It  was  the  era  of  the 
goose-necked  horns  when  radio  was  in  its  squeaking  infancy. 
Then  came  the  period  of  Al  Smith's  showmanship  before 
the  "pie-plate"  as  he  dubbed  the  microphone. 

The  Smith  voice  was  that  of  a  fighter,  explosive,  harsh, 
yet  not  enough  to  be  exceedingly  disagreeable.  His  raspy 
quality  was  modified  by  a  great  sense  of  humor.  The  chuckle 
lurked  behind  the  sentences  and  foretold  the  approach  of  a 
good-natured  or  humorous  point.  The  "happy-warrior"  voice 
was  confident,  aggressive,  and  chuck  full  of  unpolished  words 
hitherto  unheard  of  in  rad-dio. 

Only  a  few  were  privileged  to  listen  to  the  proceedings 
of  a  presidential  convention.  On  his  1923  tour  into  the  West, 
Harding  spoke  through  the  Denunciator"  as  the  microphone 
was  then  called.  The  "new-fangled  telephone"  crippled  his 
style  of  oratory  and  politicians  advised  him  to  throw  it 
aside.  But  amplified  oratory  came  to  stay.  Through  head- 
phone, the  unseen  audience  listened  to  President  Wilson, 
but  by  that  time  improved  transmission  enabled  them  to  hear 
the  voice  of  Coolidge  as  well.  Today  the  ears  of  the  nation 


416  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

can  instantly  catch  the  proceedings  of  a  presidential  con- 

Less  than  twenty  stations  were  linked  when  Coolidge  was 
named  for  office  but  Coolidge  was  far  from  being  "Silent 
Cal"  before  the  microphone.  By  1936  the  proceedings  of  the 
convention  which  nominated  Governor  Landon  of  Kansas 
were  carried  from  Maine  to  Honolulu  through  the  use  of 
over  two  hundred  transmitters.  During  six  and  a  half  years 
in  the  White  House  Mr.  Coolidge  engaged  in  thirty-seven 

Herbert  Hoover  faced  the  microphone  ninety-five  times 
during  his  four  years  of  incumbency.  His  voice  was  typical 
of  the  engineer.  The  microphone  betrayed  deliberate  effort. 
But  the  importance  of  what  a  president  says  insures  a  large 
listening  audience,  no  matter  what  the  quality  of  his  radio 
delivery.  In  that  respect  he  has  an  advantage  over  his  op- 
ponent. The  timbre  of  the  Hoover  voice  was  a  trifle  heavy. 
The  broadcasters  called  it  "the  voice  of  a  man  who  does  not 
like  to  talk."  His  manner  of  monotoned  speaking  showed 
great  positiveness,  even  stubbornness.  President  Roosevelt 
exceeded  the  record  established  by  any  of  his  predecessors 
in  office. 

It  was  predicted  that  radio  would  bring  about  a  com- 
plete change  in  vocal  technique  for  political  speakers.  The 
hope  is  far  too  sanguine.  Human  nature  is  not  easily  trans- 
formed by  a  mechanical  device  like  the  microphone.  The 
instincts  for  unbridled  expression  and  for  flamboyant  ora- 
tory are  deep  in  the  human  conscience. 

Alfred  Landon  himself  admitted  some  two  years  later  re- 
flectively in  the  New  York  Times  that  the  G.O.P.  furnished 
him  with  a  voice  instructor  to  spruce  up  his  radio  delivery. 
"But  I  had  little  time,"  he  complained  "in  the  unremitting 
pressure  upon  me  for  practice.  There  was  some  concern 
about  my  radio  delivery  in  comparison  with  Franklin  Roose- 
velt's. The  White  House  is  primarily  an  executive  office  not 


a  broadcasting  station.  There  are  different  accents  in  dif- 
ferent sections  of  the  country.  Mine  was  a  western  accent, 
that  of  the  environment  in  which  I  was  reared.  Mr.  Roose- 
velt's ability  appeared  one  night  when  I  heard  him  say  'war' 
with  the  New  York  accent  which  made  it  'waw'  to  western 
ears,  and  then  change  to  'War-r'  with  a  sturdy  Y  the  next 
time  he  used  the  word." 

Listeners  noticed  that  Landon's  voice  was  inclined  to  fade 
during  a  broadcast.  This  was  because  he  had  a  habit  of 
swaying  from  side  to  side,  which  took  him  out  of  range  of 
the  microphone.  A  special  stand  was  built  for  him  in  order 
to  enable  him  to  keep  a  steady  position  in  relation  to  the 
mike.  He  regarded  his  speaking  problem  seriously,  and  had 
his  speeches  recorded  in  rehearsal  before  going  on  the  air 
so  that  he  could  check  them  for  imperfections. 

In  common  with  many  political  speakers  Governor  Lan- 
don's main  difficulty  was  his  lack  of  precision  and  articula- 
tion. He  did  not  sound  clear  and  reached  the  ear  as  a 
monotonous  jumble.  He  put  the  emphasis  on  the  wrong 
words,  phrased  poorly,  and  lost  the  rhythm  of  speech  which 
indicates  the  man  who  speaks,  knows  and  believes  what  he 
is  saying.  A  speech  correctionist  would  recommend  that  he 
have  records  made  of  his  own  speeches,  and  this  would 
enable  him  to  pick  the  flaws  in  his  own  style.  He  would 
notice  that  he  speaks  with  the  back  of  his  tongue  in  his 
jaws  giving  a  rasping  manner  to  the  pronunciation  of  "r." 

In  1936  the  G.O.P.  innerguard  hoped  they  could  find  a 
candidate  who  would  vie  with  Roosevelt  as  a  speaker.  They 
accepted  Governor  Landon,  whose  homely  appeal,  it  was 
hoped,  would  make  up  for  his  lack  of  diction,  but  Landon 
suffered  severely  by  comparison,  and  his  stumbling  and 
inept  phrasing  did  him  scant  justice.  No  use  of  minimizing 
the  effects  of  voice  on  the  electorate.  After  Landon's  weak 
and  unimaginative  speech  of  acceptance  at  Topeka,  the 
polls  showed  his  steady  decline. 

41 8  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

"His  jerkiness,  lack  of  variety  and  very  long  phrasing  all 
indicate  self-consciousness.  Landon  sounds  as  if  he  is  just 
reading  strings  of  words.  If  it  is  stage  fright,  Mr.  Landon 
should  get  over  it.  After  all,  he  is  running  for  president  of 
the  United  States.  His  faults  could  be  eliminated  by  training. 

"The  speech  of  the  Socialist  candidate,  Norman  Thomas, 
is  not  bad,  but  it  is  a  little  tense  and  unsteady.  Sometimes 
his  emotions  seem  to  get  the  upper  hand.  I  should  think  he 
would  have  a  sore  throat  after  talking  a  while. 

"Earl  Browder,  the  communist  candidate,  has  one  thing  in 
common  with  his  fellow-Kansan,  Governor  Landon,  if  noth- 
ing else.  That  is  the  mid-western  nasality  which  is  not  con- 
fined to  Kansas.  Frequently,  Mr.  Browder  sounds  like  a 
pedagogue  trying  to  make  everything  very  clear  to  his  class 
of  little  children  by  speaking  in  simple  words  of  one  syl- 
lable. He  should  give  his  audience  credit  for  somewhat 
higher  intelligence.  It  detracts  from  his  effectiveness." 

Radio  established  Huey  Long  as  a  voice  of  great  authority. 
In  his  own  state  he  had  already  captured  the  three  functions 
of  government.  The  North  had  been  misled  into  believing 
his  voice  that  of  a  clown.  It  simply  missed  his  power  and 
talent  of  mass  appeal.  Raymond  Gram  Swing  regarded  him 
as  a  forerunner  of  American  fascism.  Some  regarded  the 
Kingfish  the  best  political  radio  speaker,  better  than  Presi- 
dent Roosevelt.  "Give  him  time  on  the  air,"  said  the  publi- 
cist "and  let  him  have  a  campaign  in  each  state,  and  he  can 
sweep  the  country.  He  is  one  of  the  most  persuasive  men 

His  enemies  called  him  the  "Mouth  of  the  Mississippi." 
Few  politicians  had  a  tongue  so  barbed  and  ready  with  in- 
vective, shrieking  adjectives,  roaring  like  a  bull.  On  occasion, 
over  his  own  state  station  WDSU  he  used  the  microphone 
three  hours  at  a  time.  His  special  gift  was  ad  libbing,  falling 
back  into  his  own  after  tearing  up  his  prepared  script. 

An  assassin's  bullet  laid  him  low  and  checked  the  dema- 


gogue.  His  style  was  simple  and  direct  in  the  vernacular  of 
the  uneducated  man.  With  a  vulgar  touch,  he  was  par  ex- 
cellence a  "man  of  the  people."  Lest  any  late  listener  might 
be  in  doubt  as  to  his  identity  he  had  the  habit  of  repeating 
at  frequent  intervals:  "This  is  Huey  Long  speaking."  "This 
is  Huey  Long  reading  to  you  from  the  Bible."  And  then  he 
would  go  on  preaching  his  "Share  the  Wealth  Doctrine." 
Huey  Long  intended  to  use  Radio  to  build  up  a  nation 
wide  political  machine. 

The  microphone  has  at  least  brought  about  some  changes 
from  old  time  practices.  In  the  older  days,  the  candidate 
would  journey  around  the  country,  making  as  many  as 
twenty  speeches  a  day  in  tank  towns.  The  speech  usually 
was  the  same  for  each  locality.  The  big  speeches  were  re- 
served for  the  big  cities.  Today  candidates  make  fewer 
speeches  and  save  them  for  important  occasions.  Sometimes 
the  talk  delivered  before  a  local  audience  is  not  designed 
for  local  conception  but  is  framed  rather  for  radio  listeners. 

Radio  has  reduced  the  oratory  of  the  convention  to  almost 
negligent  importance.  The  convention  orator  at  one  time 
lent  powerful  influence  to  nomination  of  candidates.  The 
Democratic  Convention  of  1896  was  a  classic  example  of 
what  sheer  oratory  can  accomplish.  The  "Thou  shalt  not 
crucify  us  on  a  cross  of  gold"  speech  lifted  William  Jennings 
Bryan  into  the  candidacy. 

In  many  respects  the  nominating  conventions  of  1940  did 
not  differ  widely  from  those  in  the  past.  History  records  the 
uproar  and  the  demonstration  of  the  delegates  who  nomi- 
nated Lincoln  in  1860.  Radio  has  increased  the  tendency 
towards  stage  celebration.  Convention  oratory  is  designed 
for  radio  consumption  since  most  of  the  talking  has  already 
been  privately  finished  in  smoke-filled  conference  rooms. 

The  public  is  becoming  aware  that  any  convention  demon- 
stration is  about  ten  per  cent  spontaneous,  ninety  per  cent 
forced,  with  the  addition  of  the  big  pipe  organ  that  alter- 

42O  RAPE    OF    RADIO 

nates  with  the  band  and  fills  the  convention  hall  with  its 
cacophonies.  Daylight  sessions  are  dull.  The  galleries  are 
empty.  Night  sessions  are  all  pepped  up  and  the  gallery  is 
jammed.  To  many  listeners  the  Convention  Hall  seemed 
to  be  a  vacuum  filled  with  words. 

President  Harding  was  the  first  chief  executive  to  take 
radio  along  on  a  train  trip.  That  was  in  1923.  The  micro- 
phone always  irked  President  Harding.  He  had  to  abandon 
his  habit  of  walking  up  and  down  the  platform,  and  some- 
how he  lost  personal  contact  when  he  ignored  the  visible 
audience  for  the  sake  of  that  imponderable  unseen  audience. 

Radio  is  responsible  for  the  decline  and  prolongation  of 
convention  oratory.  Such  a  sentiment  was  uttered  in  his 
dying  moments  by  Godfrey  G.  Gloom,  that  aged  Jeffersonian 
creation  of  Elmer  Davis  who  was  struck  by  an  automobile 
after  leaving  the  Convention  Hall.  "As  for  the  radio,  its 
demoralizing  effect  on  convention  oratory  is  well  known.  If 
it  had  taken  the  roaring  out  of  oratory  it  could  well  be  com- 
mended, but  it  has  merely  taken  out  the  spontaneity  and  left 
all  the  roars  in,  with  the  sole  qualification  that  the  roarer 
has  to  take  the  proper  stance  so  that  he  can  roar  into  the 

The  microphone  has  its  limitations  in  presenting  the  true 
feeling  and  atmosphere  that  surrounds  the  speaker.  The 
speech  may  be  nothing  more  than  a  wild  bellow  in  the  hall. 
Over  the  microphone  it  becomes  detached  from  the  other 
sounds  of  which  the  voice  is  properly  a  part. 

The  Fireside  Chat 

There  are  some  who  say  that  Franklin  D.  Roosevelt  won 
his  spurs  before  the  microphone  at  the  right  time  in  history. 
His  voice  came  with  soothing  power  at  a  time  when  the  air 
was  filled  with  voices  whose  raucous  prophesies  did  not 
match  their  political  wisdom. 


It  was  by  his  fireside  chats  that  the  President  established 
himself  as  one  of  the  finest  political  speakers  of  modern 
times.  The  term,  "fireside  chat,"  was  coined  by  the  news- 
papers and  adapted  by  the  broadcasting  stations.  The  term 
conveniently  describes  that  type  of  address  in  which  the 
president  takes  the  people  into  his  confidence  and  discusses 
the  vital  problems  of  the  country.  While  it  carries  with  it 
the  implication  that  the  speech  is  casual  and  impromptu, 
the  president's  words  have  had  the  deepest  thought  and 
planning.  The  term  caught  the  public's  fancy,  and  it  is 
probably  here  to  stay.  The  chats  are  looked  upon  by  the 
public  as  important  news  events.  The  president  it  is  as- 
sumed has  something  important  to  say  else  he  would  not 
go  on  the  air. 

The  words  of  salutation  of  other  presidents  had  always 
been,  "My  Countrymen,"  or  "Fellow  Citizens."  President 
Roosevelt  salutes  his  audience  as  "My  Friends,"  and  the  in- 
tonation of  these  two  words  became  to  American  ears  a 
standard  phrase  for  imitation.  No.  i  Fireside  Chat  was  the 
talk  on  the  banking  moratorium,  of  March  12,  1933,  eight 
days  after  assuming  office.  The  scene  was  the  Oval  Room 
of  the  White  House. 

The  president  talks  to  the  people  in  language  easily  un- 
derstood. He  tells  them  what  he  is  trying  to  do.  He  urges 
them  to  be  calm.  Families  are  listening  in,  nearly  two-thirds 
of  the  seventeen  million  radio  homes  in  the  United  States. 
His  friendly  and  agreeable  tonality  frees  their  minds  from 
suspicion,  makes  them  open-minded  and  makes  them  anxious 
to  listen. 

Hitler  would  never  consent  to  speak  into  a  microphone 
in  the  quiet  of  the  studio.  He  feeds  on  the  plaudits  and  the 
"Heils!"  of  the  mob  before  his  eyes.  Before  the  microphone 
in  public  places,  Hitler  never  loses  his  theatrical  gesture. 
He  impounds  the  air  with  his  fists  as  well  as  his  voice. 

One  critic  said  of  Roosevelt  that  during  his  fireside  chats 

422  RAPE   OF    RADIO 

you  get  the  feeling  that  he  is  talking  and  toasting  marsh- 
mallows  at  the  same  time.  The  president  sometimes  speaks 
with  warmth  and  passion  and  deep  sincerity.  His  over 
genial  tones  of  the  fireside  chat  change  to  tones  of  invec- 
tive. There  are  occasional  lapses  into  frankness  that  are 
uncommon  in  formal  addresses.  On  one  occasion,  Presi- 
dent Roosevelt  interrupted  himself  to  ask,  "Where's  that 
glass  of  water?  It  is  a  very  hot  evening  in  Washington,  my 
friends."  He  welds  argument  with  the  strong  blows  of  the 
crusader.  Franklin  D.  Roosevelt  has  not  lost  any  of  his  old 
mastery.  Perhaps  he  is  better  than  ever.  His  acceptance 
speech  at  Franklin  Field  displayed  him  at  his  best.  His  words 
were  tinged  with  earnestness  and  zeal.  He  was  letting  him- 
self go  before  the  crowds  as  his  heart  felt.  "This  generation